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Notes on The Art Scene Down Under

To give some background on what Archibald and Sulman Prizes are and what they mean to the Australian art world, please bear with me as I run through a condensed history of the affair. 

The Archibald Prize was named after J.F. Archibald, the editor of the Bulletin who bequested that a portrait competition be held to award ‘the best portrait, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by an artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the Trustees for sending in the pictures’.  The first Archibald Prize was given in 1921, 2 years after J.F. Archibald’s passing away.  The money prize was 400 Pounds in 1921, today it is $50,000.00 AUD.

The Sulman Prize is also one of the longest running art competitions in Australia, having started in 1936.  The Prize is named after Sir John Sulman, who was one of the most celebrated and productive architects to have built on virgin soil of Australia.  The Sulman Prize is awarded to ‘the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project executed during the two years preceding the [closing] date”, and as of 2008 is valued at $20,000. Media may be acrylic, oil, watercolour or mixed media, and applicants must have been resident in Australia for five years.

This year’s winner of the Archibald portrait prize painted the late Margaret Olley.  Another portrait of Margaret Olley by a different artist had won the portrait contest in 1948.  This illustrates what a long-spanning career Margaret Olley has had and how influential she was to the art world in Australia.  She passed away at the age of 94 on 26 July, 2011.

This year’s  winner of the Archibald Prize, a portrait of the famous late painter Margaret Olley:

Noteworthy to me is the portrait of Jessica Watson, the youngest person, at the time 13, to circumnavigate the world.

Jess’s life like portrait by Thomas McBeth

And below is the winner of the Sulman Prize with “The Artist’s Fate”


This painting criticizes the art world harshly, almost as harshly as the art world criticizes its artists.  The artist is blinded by his own brush, perhaps like all of us blinded by love, his passion for his work blinds and handicaps him.  The scavengers and opportunists (could it be the agents and gallery managers behind those cherubic masks?) expose his frailties and feed his guts to the hungry dogs (venomous art critics?).  I feel the artist’s pain.  He’s done well in irony winning a mainstream contest with a rebellious piece.

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About NewtownLiving

I live in Newtown. I love Inner West. But I can love other neighbourhoods as well.

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