Art Gallery of New South Wales: The Archibald Prize

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales and see The Archibald Prize finalists for 2019. Although I technically saw finalists from The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, I just want to focus on The Archibald. This was my second time visiting an Archibald exhibition. If you’re interested in reading about the exhibition in 2017, you can follow the link here.

In that post I gave a brief history of the Prize and talked about some positives and negatives. Can I just say that after rereading that post to prepare for this one, I realised I have almost exactly the same comments to make. The labels were still problematic (do not get me started on kid’s labels), but, the overall vibe of the exhibition was fantastic. The balance of artworks throughout the rooms meant it felt spacious and you could really take your time looking around and not feel rushed.


For those who would prefer a refresher, The Archibald Prize is awarded each year to what is judged to be the best submitted portrait. The judges for the main award (worth $100 000) are the trustees of the Art Gallery. Once they have made their difficult decisions, the winner and finalists are exhibited. There is also a Packing Room Prize awarded by staff and a visitors favourite that you can vote on in the exhibition.

The first Archibald was held in 1921. JF Archibald, an Australian publisher and journalist, wanted to support portraiture and ensure the memory of “great Australians” could be captured through artwork. This year marked the 98th Archibald Prize so I can imagine in two years time there will be a huge celebration. I also noticed this year that the exhibition is becoming quite meta. New artists are painting artists who have won The Archibald Prize in the past.

Dogs of Archibald

Rather than voice extremely similar opinions I have about almost every Art Gallery I walk into, I want this post to have a different focus. I dedicated my visit to two things: seeing the portrait of David Wenham (I will get to that later) and playing spot the artworks with dogs. Please enjoy seeing the Archibald Prize through the eyes of someone who loves dogs.

1. Cato, Callie and Comet by Luke Cornish

This artwork had me at the label. Artist Luke Cornish admits he really just wanted to paint the dogs. Instead, he had to make the work eligible to enter into the Archibald Prize so included their owner Sue Cato. Cato is the head of her own company, Cato Counsel, sits on the board of Carriageworks and is on the Sydney Contemporary’s advisory council. What an incredible woman.

Back to the dogs, Callie and Comet are, I believe, Griffon Bruxellois. Cornish really did capture how adorable they are and their extremely friendly nature. I personally love the one sitting up looking directly at the audience. Although the colours used are primarily blacks and browns, the dogs prevent the work from looking too dreary.

2. Idris Murphy and his dog Wally by Marc Etherington

The first thing you may notice about this work is the unusual, yet fun, frame. The little figures of Idris Murphy in different outfits all surround the main painting. Despite different outfits, however, they are all wearing an Akubra hat. The painted image shows Murphy wearing a shirt covered in images of his Golden Retriever, Wally.

3. Meg and Amos (and art) by Loribelle Spirovski

Brisbane singer, songwriter and musician, Megan Washington, is posed in this work with her child, Amos, and dog, called Art.

It is a stunning work that just looks so balanced on the canvas and so colourful. A highlight, of course, is the Daschund. The way Art is curled up in the bottom corner of the painting is precious. When creating this work, the priority for Spirovski was to represent Washington’s love for her child and dog. I think that comes through very nicely.

4. Boy’s best friend by Sophia Letizia

I am so glad to have a Young Archie included in this list! Sophia Letizia is only 17 and has created this beautiful portrait of her brother holding their dog. The Young Archie runs alongside The Archibald Prize and allows students the opportunity to start displaying their portraits early.

I hope you enjoyed a walk through of the dogs in Archibald 2019. There is one more artwork I want to mention before revealing the winner.

Through the looking glass by Tessa MacKay

This painting is one of the most intricate and lifelike I have ever seen. It is truly almost a photograph. Everything from the hair of David Wenham to the reflections in the glass window of the cafe are amazing.

Although it did win the Packing Room Prize, I am honestly perplexed why this artwork didn’t win overall. It is actually breathtaking to see in real life. Besides from how lifelike it is, it’s also a massive painting which is even more impressive. I was not expecting that after seeing images of the work in marketing material.

Lindy Lee by Tony Costa

This is the winning artwork. Although I like various elements of the work, it didn’t even come close, in my mind, to the work of MacKay. Everyone will have a different opinion and I would love to hear yours! Leave a comment if you agree/disagree and share your thoughts.

Further Information

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize finalists are on display until 8 September 2019. There is an entrance fee ($20 for adults, $18 for concession and $16 for members). It is an accessible exhibition. You can see images of all finalists on the Art Gallery website, but, I strongly encourage seeing them in person.

2 thoughts on “Art Gallery of New South Wales: The Archibald Prize

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