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The Archibald Prize and Australia's premier art awards

Portrait of Hugo Weaving

Del Kathryn Barton, hugo. Winner of the 2013 Archibald Prize. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The annual Archibald Prize for portraiture is one of Australia's oldest and best-known visual arts awards. The Prize was first awarded in 1921 and is now worth $50,000.

The winning entry is judged by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. An exhibition of the paintings shortlisted for judging, in conjunction with those shortlisted for the Wynne Prize and the Sulman Prize, is held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales each year.

2013 Archibald Prize

The 2013 Archibald prize was won by Del Kathryn Barton for her painting of the actor Hugo Weaving.

Barton’s decorative, highly detailed paintings are known for their vibrant, figurative imagery – combining traditional painting techniques with contemporary design and illustrative styles. This is her fourth time in the Archibald Prize, which she won in 2008 with a portrait of herself with her two children.

The Packing Room Prize

One quirky aspect of the Archibald competition is the Packing Room Prize, awarded by the workers behind the scenes who receive, unpack and hang all the entries. First awarded in 1991, the Packing Room Prize is adjudicated by the Gallery's Storeman, Steve Peters – who continues to claim his right to 51 per cent of the votes. This Prize is traditionally awarded a couple of days before the Archibald, after the hanging of the finalists.

Portait of Tara Moss

Mathew Lynn, Tara Moss. Winner of the 2013 Packing Room Prize. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The winner of the 2013 Packing Room Prize was Mathew Lynn for his portrait of writer Tara Moss. Lynn has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize on 12 previous occasions. He has been a runner-up twice and has also been voted People’s Choice.

Salon des Refusés: The alternative Archibald and Wynne Prize selection

The Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) is an alternative portraiture and landscape exhibition selected from artworks submitted for the Archibald and Wynne Prizes. This exhibition has been running since 1991 and 'stimulates popular debate on differing approaches in contemporary art'. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to vote for the annual Holding Redlich People's Choice Award.

The Archibald Prize encourages development

The prize of $50,000 and the publicity and recognition the prize generates for the winning painter encourages painters entering the competition to stretch their skills.

The Archibald Prize competition, and each year's winning entries, are subjects of great public interest. The competition encourages discussion about painting, portraiture, and larger questions about art and definitions of quality, as few other art prizes do.

The artists submitting works in the Archibald Prize must know the subject of the portrait and, in turn, the subject of the portrait must be aware of the artist's intention. There also has to be at least one sitting by the subject for the portrait.

The inclusion of a People's Choice Award in 1988 has subsequently ensured wide engagement by the public in the prize and the related Archibald exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales every year. In 2004 Craig Ruddy also won the People's Choice Prize of $2,500. It was only the second time the People's Choice Prize was awarded to winner of the Archibald Prize. The other time was 1988, the year the People's Choice Prize was introduced and Fred Cress's portrait of John Beard won both awards.

Jules Francois Archibald

The Archibald Prize began in 1921 with a bequest from Jules Francois Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin magazine. Archibald said the Prize was to be awarded by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales to '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 prize aims to encourage portraiture by supporting artists and celebrating the memory of great Australians.

Dobell's controversial 1943 win

Portrait of an artist (Joshua Smith) 1943 by William Dobell

William Dobell, Portrait of an artist (Joshua Smith), 1943, oil on canvas, 107 x 76cm. Private collection, William Dobell, 1941.
Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2003. Photograph: Jenni Carter for the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

William Dobell's 1943 Archibald win was particularly controversial – many pundits argued his portrait of Joshua Smith so distorted Smith's features that it could not be called a portrait. Dobell's win however, expanded the concept of what could be a portrait, and abstract interpretations as well as conventional portraits were subsequently submitted.

Other visual arts prizes

The Archibald is not the only significant Australian art prize.

The Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting, mural project, or genre painting by an Australian artist. Unlike the Archibald and the Wynne, which are both judged by the Art Gallery of New South Wales' Trustees, the Sulman is selected by a single guest artist.

The winner of the 2013 Sulman Prize was Victoria Reichelt for her painting ‘After (books)'. This painting is from a series that considers the changing roles of library spaces as they adjust to keep up with new technologies.The paintings in this series use the juxtaposition of animals within library environments to consider the changing roles of these spaces.

The Wynne Prize is Australia's oldest art award, having been awarded since 1897. It is a prize for the best landscape painting or for the best figure sculpture by an Australian artist.

Imants Tillers's painting Namatjira

Imants Tillers, Namatjira. Winner of the 2013 Wynne Prize. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The winner of the 2013 Wynne Prize was Imants Tillers for his painting ‘Namatjira’. The painting is a homage to Albert Namatjira whose body of work is an art of healing and is the antecedent to the Papunya Tula art movement, which emerged in the early 1970s. Tillers also won the Wynne Prize in 2012 for his painting ‘Waterfall’,

The Sir William Dobell Art Foundation sponsored The Dobell Prize for Drawing to encourage excellence in drawing and draughtsmanship. The Dobell Drawing Prize 2012 marked the final year of this competition. A new initiative – the Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial – is to be launched in 2014.

The National Photographic Portraiture Prize is an annual prize hosted by the National Portrait Gallery. This prize was established in 2007 after the cancellation of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Australian Photographic Portraiture Prize, which was held concurrently with the Archibald Prize.

The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize with its $100,000 first prize is the richest portrait prize in the country. Its home is the State Library of New South Wales.

Up until 2008 a bequest managed by Perpetual Trustees and named after the late Australian artist, Helen Lempriere, supported the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award. It was the richest art prize for sculptors in Australia. In December 2009, Perpetual partnered with Sculpture by the Sea Inc. to develop the Helen Lempriere Scholarships to advance artists' careers through study or research.

The Macquarie Bank and the National Gallery of Australia present the National Sculpture Prize & Exhibition each year. The Prize aims to promote and support sculpture in Australia and to recognise outstanding works. It is open to artists working across all forms of sculpture, including installation and works in new media.

Image of the 2004 Archibald Prize winning painting

Craig Ruddy, David Gulpilil, 2004. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Previous winners

Since 1921, the Archibald Prize has been won by a wide range of artists.

Famous winners and subjects

Many famous artists have vied for the Archibald and won - including Brett Whiteley, Judy Cassab, Clifton Pugh, Keith Looby, and William Dobell. Famous subjects for the portraits have included Banjo Paterson, Marcus Clarke, Margaret Olley, Albert Namatjira, Patrick White, Lloyd Rees, John McEwan, Gough Whitlam, Philip Adams, Dorothy Hewitt and David Gulpilil.

Useful links

Gallery and prize information

Entry details

Past winners

Some of the painters who have won the Archibald

Last updated: 15th August, 2013.