The Archibald Prize 2019

If you’re an art lover who’s looking to add a touch of culture to your weekend, head over to the Archibald Prize exhibition.

One of the oldest and most prestigious art awards Australia has to offer, the Archibald Prize is now in its 98th year. Contestants must submit a portrait, preferably of a person excelling in the fields of art, letters, science or politics. The winning artist nets a hefty sum of $100 000.

Archibald Prize winner
Source: UNSW Newsroom

The prize was devised by Jules François Archibald, an influential Australian journalist and co-founder of the Bulletin magazine. Born John Feltham Archibald, the Irish Catholic changed his name to reflect his love of all things French.

The enigmatic art aficionado later became a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW, and made provisions in his will to hold an annual portrait competition after his death.

The Archibald Prize was born, with the inaugural competition held in 1921. The aim of the competition is to support portraiture and celebrate accomplished Australians.

The contest attracted a record 919 entries this year, which were whittled down to a pool of 51 finalists. The paintings are more diverse than ever, with good representation of women and varied cultural backgrounds.

Sydney-based artist Tony Costa scooped up this year’s top prize with his portrait of fellow artist Lindy Lee. Inspired by one of Lee’s interviews, the minimalistic painting showcases her spirituality as a practitioner of Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

Lee is depicted deep in meditation, dressed in traditional robes with her eyes closed. Using simple colours and harsh lines, Costa captures the energy and emotion of his subject to create a truly moving artwork.

The Packing Room Prize, chosen by the gallery staff who unpack and hang the portraits, was awarded to first-time finalist Tessa MacKay. Her hyper-realistic painting of actor David Wenham almost resembles a photograph.

Archibald Prize packing room winner
Source: Art Gallery of NSW

The Perth artist wanted to capture the essence of the actor’s native Sydney; Wenham is depicted staring out through the window of a café with a Sydney streetscape reflected in the glass. Details abound, from the sugar crystals in the jar down to the wrinkles of the subject’s shirt.

Other prolific finalists this year include Anh Do, who won the 2017 People’s Choice Award in 2017, presenting a stirring portrait of war artist George Gittoes. Notable entries include a portrait of lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh posed like Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring, and a blue-tinged painting of respected journalist Leigh Sales.

The exhibition will be running at the Art Gallery of NSW until early September, when it embarks on a tour of Australia. Catch it before it’s gone, then nominate your favourite painting for the People’s Choice Award.

11 May – 8 September 2019

The Archibald Prize Exhibition

Art Gallery of NSW

Art Gallery Rd, Sydney NSW 2000

T: (02) 9225 1700

Feature Image.

By Jennifer Luu