Centre for Theoretical Cosmology News

"Homage to Stephen Hawking" unveiled at CTC

The Centre for Theoretical Cosmology is extremely grateful to receive the donation of a painting of Stephen Hawking by the late British-born Canadian artist, Frank Barry, father of Ailsa and her brother Christopher Barry. The artwork, entitled "Homage to Stephen Hawking," was painted in 1990, not long after Stephen published his bestselling book A Brief History of Time, through which he became known to the wider public around the world.

The artist, Frank Barry, was born in 1913 and had a fascinating career. During WWII, he was an RAF reconnaissance officer in the Far East, after which he went to Art School in London, before emigrating with his family in 1963 to Canada where he taught at Concordia University in Montreal. He continued painting in his long retirement, living until he was 100. His works are displayed in several public collections in Canada, including McGill University and the National Gallery. Frank Barry said of his own work that he was "concerned with the relationship between painted shape and solid form, between illusory space and real space."

The painting was generously offered to the CTC by Ailsa Barry and her husband, Jonathan Sakula. The unveiling took place on 17 September 2019, nearly 18 months to the day after the death of Stephen Hawking, with Ailsa and Jonathan in attendance along with Nigel Peake, Head of DAMTP, and a select group of other CTC and DAMTP members. The painting has been appropriately placed on the wall of Stephen's former office, right next to the door through which he passed every day. CTC Director Paul Shellard gave a short speech before the unveiling, which included the following observations:

One of Frank Barry's sketches for the artwork, now kept at Concordia University

Stephen was a towering figure scientifically who had led our group for several decades and we all owe him a great debt for the example he set us, both intellectually and personally. Those of us who can remember him back in 1990 – and there are a few here – will know that Frank Barry has captured an excellent likeness of Stephen at that time. He appears reflective, but also confident and optimistic, as he ponders the mysteries of the Universe, like Newton, with his mind "voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone." We were also delighted by the combination of Stephen's image with representations of his scientific achievements, including Hawking radiation from black holes, black hole formation, representations of the Big Bang, and the primordial fluctuations from which all the structure of the Universe has emerged. In addition, we see allusions to Newton's Principia presumably because Stephen was the Lucasian Professor, a Chair that Newton also held. The distinctive composition and imagery reminds us of the manner in which Stephen tackled his research, striking at the heart of a problem by thinking about it geometrically.

The donation of the artwork is very timely indeed, with the recent launch of the Stephen Hawking Programme, a campaign to celebrate and memorialise Stephen's life through a programme of teaching, research and outreach. The programme will perpetuate Stephen's legacy and to ensure the vitality of our ongoing research in cosmology and gravitation.

Stephen Hawking Programme:


Official website of Frank Barry:



Paul Shellard with Ailsa Barry and Jonathan Sakula. Image credit: Tobias Baldauf