Archibald Prize

portraiture prize

The Archibald Prize is the most important prize for portraits in Australia. It was first awarded in 1921. The money for the prize was left by J. F. Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin magazine who died in 1919. The prize is awarded by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the best portrait of a person famous in Art, Letters, Science or Politics. The artist must have lived in Australia or New Zealand for at least one year. The Archibald Prize is awarded every year. Since 2015 the prize has been worth A$100,000.


William Beckwith McInnes's Portrait of Miss Collins won the 1924 Archibald Prize.

The first prize awarded in 1921 was worth £400. Early winners included William Beckwith McInnes, John Longstaff, and William Dargie. Dargie's painting which won in 1942 had been painted when he was an official war artist during World War 2 in Syria. The ship carrying the painting back to Australia sank and the painting was underwater for some time.

In 1946 the trustees selected works for instead of displaying all the entries. Less than a third of the entries were chosen for exhibition.

Dargie also won the 1956 prize with a portrait of Australia's celebrated Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira. The portrait was done while Albert Namatjira was visiting Sydney from the Central Desert.

In 1964 and 1980 the prize was not awarded as there were no works that the trustees thought were good enough.

There are usually about 700 entries in the Archibald Prize, but only about 40 are selected as finalists for display. Some of the winning artists have had to enter for many years before they made the final display of paintings.

Portraits in 2006 included a painting of one of The Wiggles by Patrick Whiteley[1] actor Steve Bisley by Bronwyn Graham,[2] actor Garry McDonald by Paul Jackson,[3] politician Steve Bracks by Garry Anderson,[4] actor Cate Blanchett by McLean Edwards, actor Ernie Dingo by Marie Klement,[5] cricketer Dennis Lillee by Melinda Mackay,[6] musician and TV personality Wilbur Wilde by Phillip Howe,[7] Peter Slipper by Wayne Strickland.[8] The 2010 prize winner was Sam Leach with his painting of musician Tim Minchin.[9]



The prize has often been the centre of argument and there have even been several court cases. The most famous case was in 1943 when William Dobell's winning painting of artist Joshua Smith was claimed to be a caricature and not a portrait.

The Archibald is one of the few art prizes in which the artist's signature is covered up. The judges do not know who did the paintings. This is to try and stop the judges, some of whom are artists, from simply giving the prize to their friends and not the best painting.

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 Netherlands.

In 1953 several art students including John Olsen protested William Dargie's winning portrait. It was the seventh time he had won 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. He said that the 1972 Archibald Prize winning portrait by Clifton Pugh be used instead. This is now on display at New Parliament House in Canberra.

In 1975, John Bloomfield's portrait of Tim Burstall was rejected because it had been painted from a photograph, and not from life. The prize was then given to Kevin Connor. John Bloomfield took action in 1981 saying that the winner that year, Eric Smith had not painted his subject from life. In 1983 John Bloomfield went to court to try to get back the 1975 prize but was unsuccessful. In 1995 the application form of the Archibald Prize was changed to make it clear that the subject must be painted from life.

In 1985, control of the trust was given to the Art Gallery of New South Wales after a court case. In 1997 the painting of the Bananas in Pyjamas television characters by Evert Ploeg not allowed because it was not a painting of a person. Hundreds of portraits each year are not accepted as finalists.

The 2000 Archibald winner, Adam Cullen, took action against the American Broadcasting Company who had used his painting, Portrait of David Wenham, in a television commercial.

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

In 2004 Craig Ruddy's portrait of actor David Gulpilil, won both the main prize and the "People's Choice" award. It was challenged because it was a charcoal sketch rather than a painting. The claim was dismissed in the Supreme Court in June 2006.[10]

In 2008 Sam Leach's portrait of himself as Hitler made the front page of Melbourne's newspaper The Age.[11] This started a national argument about of his choice of subject matter. The prize money was also changed to $50 000.

The prize money is now currently $100,000.

Additional categories


Since 1988, two extra awards have been added to the Archibald prize event. In 1991, the Packing Room Prize was established. The employees who receive the portraits and put them in the gallery vote for their choice of winner. Although the prize is said to be awarded by the employees, the gallery's head storeman – as of 2011, Steve Peters – holds 51% of the vote.[12] The other award is the Peoples Choice Award in which votes from the viewing public are collected to find a winner. This award also comes with a 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). The first was Paul Newton's portrait of Roy Slaven and HG Nelson in 2001, and second was 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 well known Australians such as actors, sportspeople, and politicians, 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 paintings 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.



  1. The Wiggles, Courier Mail [dead link]
  2. Steve Bisley, Tamworth Guide Archived 2006-09-01 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Sunanda Creagh, "Many players, but there's only one Archibald" Archived 2012-11-08 at the Wayback Machine, 7 March 2006, Sydney Morning Herald
  4. Steve Bracks, The Courier [dead link]
  5. Ernie Dingo, The Advertiser [dead link]
  6. Dennis Lillee, Sunday Times Archived 2006-03-21 at the Wayback Machine
  7. "Wilde at Heart", [dead link]
  8. Peter Slipper, Sunshine Coast Daily [dead link]
  9. Media release, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 27 February 2006 Archived 6 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Archibald challenge thrown out of court, Archived 2008-04-19 at the Wayback Machine
  11. Lorna Edwards, "Archibald Hitler portrait stirs up fury" Archived 2011-08-07 at the Wayback Machine, 29 February 2008, The Age
  12. Matthew Westwood, "Leader of the packers: Matt's in for his chop" Archived 2015-03-30 at the Wayback Machine, 9 April 2011, The Australian

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