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The Archibald Prize is regarded as the most important portraiture prize in Australia. It was first awarded in 1921 after a bequest from J. F. Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin who died in 1919. It is administered by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Walesmarker and awarded for "the best portrait, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by an artist resident in Australasia during the 12 months preceding the date fixed by the Trustees for sending in the pictures." The Archibald Prize is awarded annually and as of 2008, the prize is A$50,000.


The first prize awarded in 1921 was £400. In the early years of the Archibald Prize, the winner was dominated by Victoriamarker, such as McInnes, Longstaff, and Dargie, which was some what resented by the art community in Sydneymarker.

In 1942 William Dargie won the prize with a painting which he had done as an official war artist during World War 2 in Syriamarker. The ship carrying the painting back to Australia sank and the canvas was underwater for some time.

1946 was the first year in which the trustees selected works for entry, rather than displaying all those entered. Less than a third of the entries were chosen for exhibition.

Another notable winner is the 1956 portrait of Australia's celebrated Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira, by William Dargie. The portrait was done while the sitter was visiting Sydney from the Central Desert. In 1956 the Archibald prize money was $1,364.

In 1964 and 1980 the Trustees decided not to award the prize to anyone, deeming that no work was at the required standard.

There are usually about 200 entries in the Archibald Prize, of which only about 100 or so are selected as finalists for hanging. Only one entry is allowed per person each year. Some of the winning artists have had to enter for many years before they were hung. In 2005, comedian Peter Berner made a documentary called Loaded dog which interviewed fourteen selected Australian painters and showed how many times each of them had entered compared with how many times they had been hung as finalists, shown in the following table (asterisk denotes winners of the main prize):

Jenny Sages Lewis Miller* Bill Leak Rick Amor Adam Cullen* Peter Churcher Bruce Armstrong Kim Spooner Wendy Sharpe* Martine Emdur Euan MacLeod* Craig Ruddy* Margarita Georgiadis Max Cullen
Hung 14 13 11 9 8 6 5 3 3 2 1 1 1 1
Entered 15 17 13 11 9 10 7 8 6 4 4 2 5 4

Entrants in 2006 include a painting of one of the The Wiggles by Patrick Whiteley, actor Steve Bisley by Bronwyn Graham, Garry McDonald by Paul Jackson which is said to be a favourite with the packers, Steve Bracks by Garry Anderson, Cate Blanchett by McLean Edwards, Ernie Dingo by Marie Klement, Dennis Lillee by Melinda Mackay, Wilbur Wilde by Phillip Howe, Peter Slipper by Wayne Strickland. The 2006 prize winner is Marcus Wills with his painting The Paul Juraszek monolith (after Marcus Gheeraerts).


The prize has historically attracted a good deal of controversy and several court cases; the most famous was in 1943 when William Dobell's winning painting of Joshua Smith was challenged because of claims it was a caricature rather than a portrait.

The Archibald is one of the only major art prizes in the world in which the artists' signatures are covered up so as not to be seen by the judges during initial selection for the final. In Australia's small art community, this has been seen as allowing nepotism, whereby the judges (several of whom are artists and several of whom have no arts qualifications at all) might simply be selecting their friends' works rather than those based on merit.

Max Meldrum criticised the Archibald Prize winner in 1938, saying that women could not be expected to paint as well as men. Nora Heysen was the first woman to win the Archibald Prize, with a portrait of Madame Elink Schuurman, the wife of the Consul General for the Netherlandsmarker.

In 1952 several art students including John Olsen protested William Dargie's winning portrait, the seventh time he had been awarded the prize. One protester tied a sign around her dog which said "Winner Archibald Prize — William Doggie". Dargie went on to win the prize again in 1956.

After Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed he refused to sit for the traditional portrait which is done of Australian Prime Ministers, and instructed that the 1972 Archibald Prize winning portrait by Clifton Pugh be used instead. This is now hanging at New Parliament Housemarker in Canberramarker.

In 1975, John Bloomfield's portrait of Tim Burstall was disqualified on the grounds that it had been painted from a blown up photograph, rather than from life. The prize was then awarded to Kevin Connor. Later, legal action was threatened by John Bloomfield in 1981, claiming that the winner that year, Eric Smith had not painted his subject from life. In 1983 John Bloomfield sued for the return of the 1975 prize which was unsuccessful. In 1995 the application form of the Archibald Prize was modified based on this to make clear that the subject must be painted from life.

In 1985, administration of the trust was transferred to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, after a court case where the Perpetual Trustee Company took the Australian Journalists Association Benevolent Fund to court.

In 1997 the painting of the Bananas in Pyjamas television characters by Evert Ploeg was deemed ineligible by the trustees because it was not a painting of a person. Although this was an incident which was seized upon by the media, hundreds of portraits each year are not accepted as finalists.

Another controversy involved the 2000 Archibald winner, when artist Adam Cullen lodged a complaint with the ABC who had used his painting, Portrait of David Wenham, in a television commercial.

In 2002, head packer Steve Peters singled out a painting of himself by Dave Machin as a possible winner for the Packing Room Prize. It did not win, but it was hung outside the Archibald exhibition. Following this, portraits of the head packer were no longer allowed.

In 2004 Craig Ruddy's image of David Gulpilil, which won both the main prize and the "People's Choice" award, was challenged on the basis that it was a charcoal sketch rather than a painting. The claim was dismissed in the Supreme Court in June 2006.In 2009 Guy Maestri won the prize for his portrait of Geoffery Gurrumul Yunupingu.

In 2008 Sam Leach's image of himself as Hitler made the front page of Melbourne's newspaper The Age and sparked a national debate about the appropriateness of his choice of subject matter.

Additional categories

Since 1935 there have been two extra categories added to the Archibald prize event. Both are more likely to award a celebrity such as actor or musician, than the main prize. One of them being the Packing Room Prize in which the staff, who receive the portraits and install them in the gallery, vote for their choice of winner. Although the prize is said to be awarded by the staff, the gallery's storeman, Steve Peters, has held $35 of the vote since 1991, when the first Packing room prize was given. The other category is the Peoples Choice Award in which votes from the viewing public are collected to find a winner. This award also comes with a monetary prize of $2,500. To date, there has never been a matching Archibald Prize winner and a Packing Room Prize chosen in the same year, but there were two Peoples Choice Awards given to Archibald Prize winners in 1988 and 2004.

Twice there has been a matching Packing prize winner and Peoples choice award (neither won the main prize), to Paul Newton's portrait of Roy Slaven and HG Nelson in 2001, and to Jan Williamson's portrait of singer/songwriter Jenny Morris the following year in 2002.

Associated prizes

The Archibald is held at the same time as the Sir John Sulman Prize, the Wynne Prize, the recent Australian Photographic Portrait Prize and was held with the Dobell Prize before 2003. The Archibald prize is the next richest portrait prize in Australia, after the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. However, the Archibald is the only artist's prize that receives much attention in the general press. Part of the reason is probably that many of the paintings feature prominent Australians such as actors, sportspeople, and politicians, and thus making the art more accessible than other genres. It is also longer running with a richer tradition than the newer established portrait prizes.

In 1978 Brett Whiteley won the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes all in the same year, the only time this has happened. It was his second win for the Archibald and the other prizes as well.

Some works which do not make the Archibald Prize finalists are shown at the S. H. Ervin Gallery in the Salon des Refusés exhibition, which began in 1992.

The satirical Bald Archy Prize, supposedly judged by a cockatoo, was started in 1994 at the Coolac Festival of Fun as a parody of the Archibald Prize; it attracted so many visitors that it has moved to Sydney.

See also


  1. Courier Mail
  2. Tamworth guide
  3. Sydney Morning Herald
  4. The Courier
  5. The Advertiser
  6. Sunday Times
  7. Wilde at Heart
  8. Sunshine coast daily
  9. Media release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 27 February 2006
  10. Archibald challenge thrown out of court
  11. The Age>

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