Firstly, it’s the first time in several years the judges of this prestige portraiture award and I have agreed on the winner!
Secondly, after so long in Melbourne’s Covid lockdown it was wonderful to be able to visit regional Victoria and see so many other travellers out and about.
It’s easy to understand why the judges awarded first prize to Peter Wegner’s portrait of Guy Warren at 100.
That the painting of a 100-year-old won in the year Australia’s oldest and most renowned portrait award celebrated its 100th anniversary may seem quirky, but it’s a truly worthy winner. It’s a beautiful portrait which brings to life the face of Warren, who won the 1985 Archibald Prize with a portrait of artist Bert Flugelman.
The same could be said of my other ‘favourites’ Jeremy Eden’s portrait of actor Firass Dirani and Kathrin Longhurst’s portrait of singer Kate Ceberano, which won the Packing Room Prize. This prize is awarded by Art Gallery of New South Wales staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.
This year they received and unpacked 938 entries with the 52 finalists on a regional tour which includes the Gippsland Art Gallery.
While the winner of the People’s Award Julia Ciccarone’s self-portrait wasn’t one of my favourites, it clearly was with the school groups who came through the exhibition while we were there.
All the winning awards are hung in the one room giving audiences the chance to compare their thoughts with the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales who awarded the major award to Warren and a highly commended award to Jude Rae for her self-portrait Inside out.
The other finalists are hung in another two rooms. Informative labels accompanying each portrait explain the thoughts behind the artist in presenting their work. This can often be as enlightening as the portrait.
For example, Kirsty Neilson was initially planning to make Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s portrait more dramatic, but the longer she sat with Tame, the more the portrait became a reflection of their time together and the recognition of Tame’s inner strength.
Given the Archibald is open to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’, the exhibition also provides the chance to learn more about some Australians many of us may not be aware of.
Mabel Lee, painted by Hong Fu, is a third-generation Chinese–Australian academic and translator born in Warialda, NSW in 1939. She taught Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney and won international recognition for her translation of Gao Xingjian’s Nobel Prize-winning novel Soul Mountain.
It’s this chance to learn about interesting Australians and to see some wonderful portraits which makes the 200 kilometre drive from Melbourne to Sale well worth the effort.
If you have the time consider allowing a couple of extra days to explore the many delights of Gippsland. Alternatively V/Line trains travel from Melbourne to Sale regularly during the day while a free ‘Archie Bus’ runs between Sale Station and the Gallery.
Visit the Gippsland Art Gallery for more information on ticketing and the exhibition, which closes on November 21.
On leaving Sale the exhibition will move to several sites in country New South Wales from December 4 until August 21. Visit the Archibald Prize touring website for more information.
- Art Gallery, exhibition, Gippsland
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