The Archibald Prize

Term 3 – 2020

Research Task

The overview of this task focuses on the roles of the Curator, Critic and Historian. To manage this well you need to understand these roles in some depth. In our initial discussions we looked at conventional gallery hierarchies.

This page will focus on Curatorial issues and the Archibald Prize itself.


The Art Gallery of NSW has four major functional divisions in the the gallery’s overall structure that are answerable to the director.

  • Curatorial Services
  • Finance and Management Services
  • Exhibitions and Building Services
  • Marketing and Business Development

Each of these has a general manager that oversees the services provided by each sector. The gallery’s Curators come under Curatorial services which manage Australian Art (painting, sculpture, prints, drawings and watercolours, aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders). Western Art (pre 1900, contemporary photography) and Asian Art.

to be cont…

In the current research task one of the first things you have to do is differentiate the roles of the historian, critic and curator.

There are two types of curatorial roles;

  • Collections
  • Exhibitions

Collections curators manage the collection of artworks within galleries. A collections curator will generally be answerable to the gallery director. Their main task is to oversee and be accountable for, the acquisition of new works for specific collections within a public gallery. In private galleries the role of collections and exhibitions curator is often combined with the focus tending to be on the exhibitions aspect of the role.
Exhibitions Curators oversee the acquisition of works for exhibition. They are responsible for contacting dealers, private owners, other public and private galleries to source works for themed exhibitions. They also oversee the thematic development of exhibitions, transportation and insurance of works, they liaise with other gallery staff to develop promotional and educational material for exhibitions.

This role is in a very interesting way defined by the following advertisement from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

“The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a dynamic 100,000 sq. ft. visual and performing arts complex, supports an unusually broad range of artists and ideas in its exhibitions, residency programs, and many other activities. The Arts Center seeks a full-time Curator of Exhibitions with a breadth of knowledge and significant experience in the field of contemporary art as well as an emphasis on craft-related forms and installation works. This person will develop original thematic and solo exhibitions; write materials for exhibitions and related publications and grants; undertake speaking engagements; and collaborate with other departments; in particular on complimentary programming and marketing. With nearly all exhibitions curated in-house, the Arts Center offers an exciting opportunity to develop and implement a wide range of innovative exhibition projects. The ability to produce excellent, accessible critical writing for catalogs and other interpretive materials is required. Qualified candidates also must have honed public speaking and presentation skills, strong organizational skills, as well as the capacity to collaborate with other curators, staff in other departments, artists, lenders, and volunteers. A master’s degree in art history, American studies, or related field is required along with five years of curatorial experience. “

The Curatorial Role

Bear in mind that this job description is quite generic and deals with the curatorial role in its most traditional setting as a ‘keeper of a collection’, traditionally associated with museums in the broadest sense, note that this description uses the term ‘art museum’ instead of art gallery.

Most museum curators have at least an undergraduate degree, which can be in any field, from anthropology to zoology, as well as a graduate degree in the same subject, or a graduate degree in museum studies. Some curators have PhDs, which makes this a great career for a person with a doctorate who doesn’t want to become a professor. Because competition for positions in museums is so fierce, a museum will never have to settle for a person with only an undergraduate degree, if they have demanded that an applicant possess a doctorate.

In regards to the undergraduate degree, it is more likely that an student with a degree in the sciences, such as biology, zoology or forestry, will find a job in a natural history museum, while a student with a degree in anthropology, history or East Asian or African studies will find a job in a museum with a history collection or a war or cultural history museum. Students with degrees in fine arts or art history will probably look for positions in art museums. It is possible for a person with an undergraduate degree in one field, such as the sciences, to complete a degree in museum studies and find work in an art museum, though having learned the basics of the field in an undergraduate program would be an asset.

There is currently no accreditation or licensure for museum curators, however, the preference is to hire applicants with graduate degrees.

A typical day

Most museum curators will work Mondays through Fridays, nine to five, as full-time permanent employees. Some additional overtime may be scheduled prior to a large opening or other museum related event, such as a fundraiser.

A museum curator will spend their day researching or writing about the current collection in their museum, researching and finding additional pieces to be added to the collection. They answer questions about the authenticity and ownership of pieces in the collection. Curators will be involved in museum education projects, supplying information about items in the collection and the relevance of those pieces. They will be engaged in finding and negotiating for the use or loan of collections, especially travelling collections from other museums. They may also supply content to the museum’s website or newsletter. They will also deal with public relations queries, such as creating excitement for a new collection or event at the museum or dealing with issues about a collection, such as a controversial piece or display.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide average salary for curators was twenty-two USD an hour.

Getting Started and Advancement

If you are currently an undergraduate student or about to start college, you can find volunteer positions in museums, usually as a docent or guide. There are also paid positions working in customer service in the museum. These positions will help you find out if you like the museum environment, as well as get some experience working with collections and in museum education. You should also look for museum internships and summer employment, and get experience in different museums, such as one summer in an art museum and the school year working part-time in a local history museum. These experiences will be useful when you apply to your official museum internship while in or just after graduating from a museum studies program.

You may find a position right out of graduate school as a museum curator, or as a museum educator, and then work into the curator position. In large museums, they have head curators for separate areas, such as paleontology and botany, but in smaller museums, the curator may also be the museum manager or director.

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On the Role of the Curator

How does a museum/gallery prepare for an exhibition

How does a curatorial team make decisions

Conditions of Entry

What do you need to know and what are the conditions?

“Anyone who has lived in Australia or New Zealand for a full year before the closing date and who pays the $30 handling fee, may enter the Archibald Prize. (For the next closing date, see the General Conditions.)

You do not need to be famous to enter (however, winning would certainly make you more famous!). Although so far only adults have won the Prize, the rules do not specify a minimum age.

(Incidentally, although the rules state that the portrait should be “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics”, many artists have painted self-portraits. After all, if you were to win, or be chosen as one of the finalists, you would certainly be distinguished in art.)

For further details about entering the Archibald Prize, or one of the other competitions, see the Prizes Information page

Awarded annually to the best portrait, “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia during the 12 months preceding the [closing] date …” AGNSW

An example of information for artists and the conditions to be met by artists submitting for the Archibald is provided below;

  • Value: $50,000 (non-acquisitive)
  • Medium: oil, acrylic, watercolour and mixed media.
  • Other information: Portraits submitted for the Archibald Prize must be painted from life. This means that the subject is known to the artist, is aware of the artist’s intention and that there has been at least one sitting by the subject for the artist, for the portrait in question. Artists must provide a written statement signed by the subject stating that they had at least one sitting with the artist.

Applicants must have been resident in Australasia for a period of 12 months prior to the closing date.

Entries for the 2010 ArchibaldWynne and Sulman Prizes will be received between Monday 1 March and Friday 5 March 2010 (between 8am and 4pm).

Entry dates for the 2010 Dobell Prize will announced later in the year. (In 2009, entries were accepted between Wednesday 28 October and Friday 30 October.)

  1. A $30.00 (including GST) handling fee is to be paid for each work entered. One work only can be entered in each competition.
  2. An individual work may not be submitted for more than one prize. Should this occur, the Trustees reserve the right to enter the work in the category most appropriate.
  3. There is a size restriction for works in the Archibald, Wynne, Sulman and Dobell Prize competitions. Works must be no larger in size than 90,000 square cm (eg 3m x 3m, 1.5m x 6m, etc). This applies to the overall size of multi-panel pieces. Sculptures cannot exceed 3 metres in height, 2 square metres in area or 1000 kg in weight. Please note that the wall height in the exhibition space is 3.4 metres, floor to ceiling.The Sulman Prize competition has a further size restriction:
    Paintings must be larger than 76.2cm x 60.9cm (or more than 4640 square cm in area). These measurements apply to the actual work of art and not frames or mounting. Murals must be in the form of a colour scale design in any media and must be less than 150cm x 100cm. Murals must be accompanied by a photograph of the site in which the mural is/will be located.
  4. Painting, drawing and mural project entries must be suitably framed for handling. A stretched canvas is considered framed. Please remove any hooks or wire, as they can damage other artists’ work.
  5. Neither the Trust nor the Gallery will be responsible for loss or damage whatsoever, and however caused, to any work whilst in its custody. Each competitor is responsible for maintaining his/her own insurance coverage.
  6. The Trust reserves the right to display certain works chosen from those not hung in the Archibald Prize Exhibition and Wynne Prize Exhibition at a Salon des Refusés exhibition at the SH Ervin Gallery. However, it is the policy of the SH Ervin Gallery to seek the permission of each artist before their works are included in the Salon des Refusés exhibition.
  7. The Trustees reserve the right to display certain works from those hung in the Archibald Prize Exhibition at another venue.
  8. Multi-panel pieces are accepted and are regarded as one work. Such works should be accompanied by a photo of the assembled work and clear instructions for the installation of the work if selected for hanging. The overall size of the work must comply with condition 3 above.

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History of the Prize.

he Archibald Prize was named after Jules François Archibald.

Born at Kildare near Geelong in 1856, J.F Archibald’s father was an Irish-born police sergeant, and his mother died giving birth to her fifth child. Christened John Feltham Archibald, in his late teens he decided that he liked the idea of ‘being born in France’, and thus in a moment of eccenticity changed his name to Jules François Archibald. He decided firmly that from that moment on as far as he was concerned he was the son of a French Jewish mother, even his marriage certificate later noted that he was ‘born in France’.

J.F. Archibald was a journalist, he was the founding editor of the Bulletin, and had a long and varied career in this field. Archibald’s secondary education was divided between Roman Catholic and State schools. He left school at the tender age of fourteen, and was apprenticed to Fairfax and Laurie, of the Warrnambool Examiner. In his free time he wrote stories about local events and submitted them to newspapers in his neighbouring towns, too shy to offer them to his employers.

At the age of nineteen he moved to Melbourne, prompted by the remarriage of his father. However his ambition was ahead of his talents, and he ended up in the printing room of an evening tabloid, then he became a clerk with the Victorian Education Department. Life in the big city was very agreeable to the young Jules François and he loved the bohemian society of writers and reporters.

Archibald started the Bulletin in 1880 in tandem with John Haynes, an Evening News confrere who was skilled in advertising and print production. ‘Archibald’s Correspondence’, a regular column was vastly popular and eventually brought writers such as Henry Lawson, and Banjo Patterson into the Bulletin offices.

Archibald’s obsession with his job came at a price. In 1903 poor health and depression forced him out of the editors chair. Archibald was described by his biographer, Sylvia Lawson as having gone “beautifully and spectacularly mad”. Enough so that he was committed to Callan Park, a Sydney asylum. Archibald always defended his sanity and was bitter about his incarceration.

After a number of years in and out of Callan Park, Archibald apparently made a good recovery and “lived a seemingly untroubled life, an ageing gentleman keeping good cellar and table, buying pictures and being a well disposed and generous host”, according to Lawson.

Five years before his death, Archibald sold his stake in the Bulletin and offered his services to Smith’s Weekly, an irreverent Sydney tabloid that thrived on gossip and humour.

Archibald died at St Vincent’s hospital on 10 September 1919, and was buried in the Catholic section of the Waverley Cemetery. His estate was considerable, amounting to nearly £90 000. Part of it paid for the large fountain in Hyde Park, executed by French sculptor François Sicard, which commemorates Australian – French solidarity in the First World War. Part of his estate went to establish the Australian Journalists’ Association Benevolent Fund ‘for the relief of distressed Australian journalists’. One tenth of his estate was set aside for the endowment of an annual art prize, to be judged by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which in its first year, 1921, amounted to £400. Archibald himself had been made a Trustee of the Gallery in 1915.

J.F. Archibald made a career out of disrespect, shaking a fist at authority and at ‘all who reign over us’. The writer Joseph Furphy described him as ‘offensively Australian’. An energetic iconoclast, J.F Archibald endowed a portrait prize which for many years after his death honoured, in tedious felicity, the most hidebound luminaries of city and land.

Text taken from Let’s Face It. The History of the Archibald Prize, written by Peter Ross, published by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1999
© Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Selecting and Judging

The Archibald Prize is judged by the Gallery Trustees. All entries received by the specified closing date and in accord with the terms of the prize, will be accepted, numbered and stored prior to judging.

One by one the works are then carried or wheeled in by the Gallery’s installation crew  to be viewed by the Trustees, who decide by consensus if the work is ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘maybe in’. It is uncommon for a work to be judged unanimously ‘in’ straight away. The judging is a democratic decision making process and may go through many stages.

The selected group of works for that year’s Archibald are hung prior to the final judging. The Trustees  now have time to deliberate over who they will choose as the winner. They will view the works several times before making their final decision. Because the winner must be determined by a majority vote, it is important that the Trustees are able to come to an agreement on a clear winner. On the rare occasion that they cannot, no prize is awarded, as happened in 1964 and 1980. In order to reach agreement the Trustees will often confer with each other regarding their choices.

Once a winner has been successfully decided the announcement is made at the exhibition press preview before an eagerly awaiting audience of media, public and artists. That same evening the exhibition will be opened officially, and will invariably provoke discussion among the wider audience who come to view it in their thousands.

As Peter Ross points out in Let’s Face It, The History of the Archibald Prize*:

In the main the Trustees are not experts or art insiders. What they bring to the job are the eyes of the Everyman. J.F.Archibald wanted a democratic portrait prize – and that democracy, rough-hewn as it may be, is delivered every year at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

* Published by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1999



Reviewer Robert Nelson
December 22, 2004

Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Road,
Southbank, until January 9;

Crown Tower, Southbank.

It doesn’t matter that the Archibald Prize is overhung, dingy and  cramped. Too few of the paintings warrant anything better, for they hardly reward contemplation; and a dignified stretch of wall would be a waste of resources.

Many of the pictures are sloppy or messy, without an expressive justification. Nicholas Harding’s Studio Visit is built up in paint-like cement slops, as is Paul Ryan’sSelf Portrait. The volume of paint contributes nothing visually useful. Ben Quilty’s Whytie looks like a slug as a result of the sludge. Anne Cape’s Figure Within the Landscape and Tom Carment’s Euan Mcleod are unproductively messy.

The cavalier treatment of paint induces unfortunate attributes on the sitters. Adam Cullen’s Margaret Throsby is cheerful but uninformative, imposing the artist’s raucous mask over the sitter’s subtle one. Joe Furlonger’s messy Nolanesque Peter Hallinan frames the cycling art dealer as a kind of explorer.

The most common defect, however, is not that the pictures are jerry-built but that they don’t rise above illustration. This is the case with Paul Jackson’s Self Portrait with Last Hula, which is too self-conscious to be artistic. Peter Kendall’s Peter Brock and Mathew Lynn’s Pat O’Shane are similar; and Kerrie Lester’s Garry Shead makes the sitter look unpleasantly smug.

Richard Bell’s I Am Not Sorry may have some profundity but, in the context of a portrait exhibition, it reads like schematic cant. David Paulson’s Richard Bell: I Am Not Sorry strikes me as didactic and pompous in the context.

Michael Zavros’ Stephen Mori with Wyn Schubert and My Greater Kudu resembles a photographic illustration, and Dalu Zhao’s Life of Stage – John Clark is kitsch in a similar vein.

In this category, there are three respectable pictures: Jaiwen Shen’s Tom Hughes has a certain lofty theatrical grunt but still doesn’t rise above illustration. Robert Hannaford’s Self Portrait is well-painted but literal in a quirky way, just as Pamela Tippett’s Self Portrait is literal in a sombre way.

The debt to photography is disappointing in Danielle Bergstrom’s Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, a larger-than-life photo-effect of conflated illustration, as is the kitsch of Jason Benjamin’s Bread and Circuses: blandness pumped up to mural scale, which makes the sitter look oafish. Jenny Sages’ Seeing the Lights is similarly kitsch, looking like a crumpled bag and giving the sitter an indulgent air. Gillian Dunlop’s Lucy Culliton applies cheesecake to a smug smirk.

The ghost of mannerism is oppressive in the blue stick of Carolyn McKay Creecy’s Bruce Spence. Evert Ploeg’s Jana Wendt seems unfinished and Rodney Pople’s Self Portrait After Henry Raeburn mixes historicism with candy, a bit like the elongated Paul Connor of Kevin Connor. David Bromley’s McLean and Friends, Geoffey Dyer’s ghostly Graeme Murphy and Henry van den Wildenberg’s The Storyteller also suffer from an illustrative impulse.

Among the respectable pictures are Gabrielle Martin’s Tony Clark with Jasperware, which is sharp and witty; Paul Newton’s Self Portrait is credible as observation and paint; Michael Conole’s Ricky Swallow as a monk of El Greco is brown but poetic. Brian Dunlop’s Brian Kenna rescues a dull genre painting from Turkey with a little reworking; and McLean Edwards’ Martin Browne Art Dealer is a cute appropriation of Picasso and popular culture.

Lewis Miller’s naked Self Portrait III is well hung and Henry Mulholland’s Nick Myers is schematic but sharp. Paul Procee’s Tim Hall is intense but naive and Peter Wegner’s Portrait of Jacques Reymond has a psychological engagement amid a symphony of whites. Paul Worstead’s Me is cute but not a portrait.

The winner, Craig Ruddy’s David Gulpilil, Two Worlds, is an understandable choice, pinching a good nerve with extravagant scale and graphic commitment.

Some of the rejects for the Archibald were on display in the lobby of Crown Tower in an exhibition called Hidden Faces of the Archibald. Most of them are pretty bad; but it would have been easy to knock out five duds in the Archibald in order to accommodate some reasonable examples.

Anne Esposito’s Spiradoula is deserving, slightly out of alignment, which parallels the enigmatic sentiment of the smile. Christine Wrest Smith’s Two Men Drawing is a spirited allegory of portraiture. Lisa Foote’s Portrait of Karen conveys ennui in spite of the sexualised orientalism; Dagmar Cyrulla’s Aimee in Wonderland looks observed; and Andrew Sibley’s Victor Rubin, in spite of the graphic treatment, has a vivacious twinkle.

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This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

Reporter: Jayne-Maree Sedgman

MARK COLVIN: There’s excitement in Arnhem Land today at the news that a portrait of the Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil has won Australia’s best-known art prize. The portrait, by Sydney artist Craig Ruddy, beat 731 other entries to be named the winner of the 2004 Archibald Prize.Jayne-Maree Sedgman was at the announcement and then she managed to track down David Gulpilil at his home at Ramingining, in central Arnhem Land, where he told her how he’d heard the news.DAVID GULPILIL: This morning I was wondering, and I had to call my agents, and a lady secretary answer it, and I said ‘Good morning, this is David Gulpilil, is there jobs available?’ And the lady said ‘Oh David, hello, how are you? Congratulations!’ And I said ‘What for?’
‘Oh you just won the Archibald prize.’
I said ‘Wow!’ you know?JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: A clearly delighted David Gulpilil explaining how he learnt his image had captured art’s top prize. Visitors to the Art Gallery of New South Wales were rendered speechless today when met with the actor’s image on a canvas almost five metres square.The portrait’s been done in charcoal on the same English colonial wallpaper that can be found in the dining room of Kirribilli House. The artist, Craig Ruddy, says it was a very deliberate choice.CRAIG RUDDY: Just to contrast with the charcoal, and with the two worlds that David seems to live between – the spirituality of being on the land, and the wild freedom, and the wallpaper represents, I guess, the conformitism (sic) in one way, and the structure and the opulence of, you could say, you know, modern white civilisation.JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Craig Ruddy says he only got the go-ahead for a sitting with his subject just two weeks before the competition’s deadline, but he says, David Gulpilil was the only choice.CRAIG RUDDY: He’s just the most beautiful man, as I believed he would be… but I was told I met Damon Gameau a couple of months before when I first decided to try and get to David, and he warned me that David is very upfront, and straight from the heart and direct, so he said that if he didn’t connect with me, he would tell me straight away and to go away, so I knew that it was going to be difficult, but we connected straight away.And he’s just so open and loving and… a beautiful man – very beautiful, and spiritual and very strong. He’s an amazing manJAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: David Gulpilil first came to fame in the landmark Australian film Walkabout. He went on to become internationally known through his work inThe Last WaveStorm BoyCrocodile Dundee and, more recently, Rabbit Proof Fence and The Tracker. The actor says he shared a special bond with the man who captured his image.DAVID GULPILIL: As soon I see him, he’s my friend in my heart already, and he’s the Australian young generation that growing up, and sharing a life with black fellas and white fellas in this country, brother and sister, one red blood and for the two worlds, you know?I’m the one that I have been born with two legs, my two legs stand in two different worlds, my (inaudible) foot is standing in my country, and my (inaudible) foot stands in the white man’s world, you know? In the white man’s world I (inaudible) and caviar and champagne, and the other foot stand in the dirt of my dreamtimes.JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Craig Ruddy says he called his winning work David Gulpilil, Two Worlds as he feels his subject manages to straddle the contrasting worlds that are western civilisation and Aboriginal culture.The Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon, says he had a good feeling about the artwork right from the start.EDMUND CAPON: It’s a terrific choice, I think, and it’s a picture which, when I hung the show, I put it in a place where I thought people could see it in a vista, and somehow get the feeling of the presence of this painting, cause it’s got great empathy with the subject, but it’s got physical presence, and it’s got a bit of drama to it as well, and it’s a bit larger than life.MARK COLVIN: As is the Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon himself. That was him ending that report by Jayne-Maree Sedgman.

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Sir William Dargie | The Archibald Prize | A Brief HistoryJohn Feltham Archibald, or as he was later known, Jules Francois Archibald, was born in 1856 at Kildare in Victoria.He was educated at Warrnambool, apprenticed to the local newspaper, the Examiner and later, to the Standard.He moved to Melbourne, where he worked for the Herald. He later worked for the Daily Telegraph, and with John Haynes, founded The Bulletin in Sydney in 1880. He employed many of Australia’s leading young artists as illustrators for The Bulletin, including George Lambert, Norman Lindsay and B. E. Minns.When Archibald died in 1919, he left an estate valued at 89,061 pounds. Shares comprising one-tenth of the value of the estate were left to provide a prize each year for the best portrait painted by an Australian artist, ‘preferably of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics.’Anna Waldmann, notes in her article ‘The Archibald Prize’, Summer 1982 edition, Art and Australia, that ‘One of the governing factors in deciding the direction of the bequest was said to have been the portrait of Henry Lawson, commissioned by J.F.Archibald from Longstaff in 1900 for fifty guineas’.Waldmann also noted in her article, that the Archibald Prize ‘aroused from the beginning, legal challenges, rivalries and animosities that had never been envisaged by the donor, whose intentions, be they to perpetuate the memory of great Australians, to improve the quality of portrait painting or to help artists, have never been quite fulfilled.’Under the terms of the bequest, the prize is judged by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The rules stipulate that ‘the painting must be painted during the twelve months, preceding the date fixed by the Trustees, who may then exhibit the winning picture in the Gallery for two months after the award and who do not have to award the prize if “no competing picture shall in the opinion of the Trustees be painted worthy of being awarded a prize”. – Note, no Prize was awarded for 1964.Competitors were further informed in 1922, that ‘Portraits should be as far as practicable painted from life and may be of any size. No direct copies from photographs will be considered eligible. Miniatures are admissible.’

The Archibald Prize commenced with an award for 1921, which was won by W.B.McInnes for his portrait of Desbrowe Annear, the well-known Melbourne architect. When McInnes again won the prize for 1922, with his ‘Portrait of a Lady’, the critics suggested that he was now the ‘winner in perpetuity’ and the prize should be renamed the ‘McInnes Endowment’.

This suggestion was further supported when McInnes again won the prize for 1924, 1926. 1930 and 1936.

It is interesting to note that in the first eleven years of the Archibald Prize, the two Victorian born artists, W.B.McInnes and John Longstaff won every year, except for 1927, which was won by the Russian born, George Lambert. Then for 1932, another Victorian born artist, Ernest Buckmaster, won the prize.

There was little joy in New South Wales among their ‘state of origin’ artists, and the interstate rivalry would have been fuelled by the success of the Victorian artists.

At least the Art Gallery of New South Wales should have felt themselves privileged and fortunate that Victorian born, Archibald had not left his Prize bequest to the National Gallery of Victoria.

The success of the Victorian artists continued in the 1930’s, Longstaff again won, this time for 1935, McInnes again won, with the prize for 1936, and the Victorian-based artists, Charles Wheeler of New Zealand won for 1933, and Max Meldrum of Scotland won for 1939 and 1940.

By the 1940’s, the younger ‘modern’ artists, especially those in Sydney, were becoming more vocal in their frustration with the same old, predominantly male, ‘conservative’ choices made by the trustees, and the critics, especially those in New South Wales were fuelling these frustrations with harsh criticisms of the prize-winning paintings.

Enter another Victorian, William Dargie, who between 1941 and 1956, was to dominate the Archibald with eight prize-winning works.

It is not surprising that the young artists in New South Wales and the press in New South Wales gave Dargie such harsh treatment. It was not just that he won, but the fact that he was seen as another ‘conservative’ Victorian, out to steal the coveted New South Wales – Archibald Prize- was, for many, just too much to bear.

In the history of the Archibald Prize, five Victorian born artists between them have won the prize twenty-six times. These five outstanding portrait painters are William Dargie, who still holds the record with eight wins, William McInnes who achieved seven, John Longstaff who won five and Clifton Pugh (a student of Dargie) and Eric Smith who won three each.

Controversy nearly always surrounds the prize-winning work, and critics are seldom kind to the winning artist, or in agreement as to whom should have won.

The New South Wales critics were particularly harsh on Dargie, although equally harsh on Meldrum and Dobell.

Dobell came in for tremendous criticism when his work ‘Portrait of the artist (Joshua Smith) was awarded the Prize for 1943. It certainly was a departure from the type of work that Dargie produced, however many considered it merely a caricature – and should not be eligible for the prize.

What Dargie calls ‘an absurdist trial’ followed, because ‘Dobell exaggerated the body of his subject, the naturally elongated Joshua Smith.’
Dargie however supported Dobell, and commented ‘How dare they call that picture of Smith caricatured? I saw him in Sydney one day. He was caricatured in himself.’ It is interesting to note that in the following year, the Archibald Prize was awarded to Joshua Smith.

Sixty years later this work of ‘Joshua Smith’ by Dobell, because of the controversy and the trial, is one of the best known of the Archibald Prize works, and still generates media attention.

There are many books and articles that have covered various aspects of the Archibald Prize, and still more which have devoted lengthy discussions to particular works. Two that I would recommend are ‘The Archibald Prize’ / Anna Waldmann Art and Australia vol.20, no.2, Summer 1982, pp.213-236; and ‘Let’s Face It: The history of the Archibald Prize’ / Peter Ross Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1999.

In his interviews, Sir William Dargie, when asked about the Archibald Prize, has often commented that it was sad that Archibald in his bequest did not make the prize acquisitive. This would have ensured the life of the prize-winning works within a major gallery collection, rather than having the works scattered as they are today, and it could have provided the solid base for a National portrait collection.

In 1990, Dargie in an interview with Lawrence Money for the article ‘Meeting an angry artist’ published in The Age, admitted that ‘on four of the eight occasions that he won the Archibald, he did not deserve it. (Mind you, he adds that there were other years when he thought he should have won and didn’t.).

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Andrew Frost Archibald Prize 09 Opening Address – Thursday 30 July 2009

Good evening.

The Archibald prize is the most accessible of art prizes. Yet it is also the most frustrating, beguiling, annoying, fascinating and infuriating prize, and more than that, it’s the also the essential art prize on Australia’s annual calendar of art events.

The Archibald Prize is a publicity magnet, it draws in the crowds, it has a decent purse attached to it and it can make the careers of artists. It is liked and loathed in equal measure… Its past controversies are well remembered too – and every New Year promises another.
I think we could agree that the Archibald Prize produces great paintings, some even win, and there are some terrible paintings, and some of these win too.

For any artist who enters the prize, they are potentially taking their place among the pantheon of the greats.

The Archibald’s grand tradition goes back to the teens of the last Century. J.F. Archibald, a journalist and the founding editor of The Bulletin, died in 1919 and bequeathed ten per cent of his £90,000 estate to the Art Gallery of NSW to set up an annual portrait prize. As Peter Ross’s history of the Archibald Let’s Face It wryly notes, the competition’s first year in 1921 was a period of great artistic innovation in Europe with Surrealism, Dadaism, Cubism and Futurism all existing side by side. In Australia, however, the tradition of 19th century academic portraiture was alive and well, as if preserved by its isolation from the rest of the artistic world like a lost land of dinosaurs

Complaints over the Archibald’s perceived lack of innovation, subjects and techniques were voiced by critics as early as 1920 and they seem eerily familiar to critical attitudes today. The Sydney Morning Herald noted in 1932 that “the prize has acted as a magnet to every person with even the most rudimentary knowledge of art. The work has been of an extremely varied nature, ranging from the very fine to most ludicrous and pathetic.” Writing in the Herald art critic John McDonald once described the Archibald competition – along with a range of other portrait themed competitions and exhibitions in Sydney timed to cash in on the Archibald excitement – as a disease. “I’ve often suspected that the Archibald Prize was an antipodean sickness,” he wrote, “but now it seems like a virus that has infected every venue in Sydney.”
The various celebrated instances of protest, litigation and controversy over the Archibald prize are all related to its struggle with the evolution of the contemporary practice of painting. The 1943 court case over William Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith – which, it was claimed, was a caricature and not a proper portrait – was eerily echoed in the legal stoush between rejected artist Tony Johansen and the trustees of the AGNSW over his claim that Craig Ruddy’s 2004 winning portrait of David Gulpilil was a drawing and not a proper painting. The Archibald’s controversies have taken on a traditionalist bent, much like the prize itself.
This maelstrom of claim and counter claim is forgotten every year and I have to confess that, no matter how I have felt about a year of entries and winners, I never miss the show. I always feel the excitement and anticipation of each new crop of finalists and hope, not so secretly, to be outraged, thrilled, excited and infuriated all over again. There’s nothing like the smell of oil paint in the morning.

I think the Archibald’s main success as an institution is its enduring popularity with the general public. It’s not for nothing that the Archibald attracts big crowds, not just at the opening and throughout its run at the Art Gallery of NSW, but at places such as here, as a selection of finalists and the winner goes on tour. What is it that makes this prize so appealing?
To look upon the faces of others in art, just as we do in our day to day life, is to make contact with humanity in its most immediate essence. The portrayal of the human body is the direct link between the art of virtually every culture on Earth, and our consistent fascination with the subjects of Archibald portraits is a demonstration of the most meaningful exchange between those people within a culture. I think art at its best when it’s a conversation between people, between the egalitarian impulse and the private need to commune with the creativity of others, to see the world how others see it. That to me is the value of the Archibald Prize, and the reason we all keep going back.

Thanks so much for asking me to be here tonight.

Without any further ado it gives me great pleasure to declare this exhibition open.
Thank you.

Case Studies

Barry Phips

An extensive resource for this task is located here

You can view the 2009 AGNSW Education KIt here

Interactive PDF here

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