Archibald Prize

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Archibald Prize
W B McInnes - H. Desbrowe Annear (1921).jpg
Desbrowe Annear by W B McInnes, the first Archibald Prize winner (1921)
Sponsored by Art Gallery of NSW
Location New South Wales
Country Australia
Reward(s) $100,000.00 AUD
First awarded 1921 (Desbrowe Annear)
Currently held by Mitch Cairns for Agatha Gothe-Snape
Most awards Sir William Dargie (8)
Edmund Herring by William Dargie.jpg
Lt-General The Hon Edmund Francis Herring, DSO, MC, ED by Sir William Dargie (1945)

The Archibald Prize was the first major prize for portraiture in Australian art. It was first awarded in 1921 after the receipt of a bequest from J. F. Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin who died in 1919. It is now administered by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and awarded for "the best portrait, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by an artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the trustees for sending in the pictures." The Archibald Prize has been awarded annually since 1921 (with two exceptions[1]) and since July 2015 the prize has been AU$100,000.[2]


Prize money[edit]

  • 1921 – £400 [3]
  • 1941 – £443 / 13 / 4 [4]
  • 1942 – £441 / 11 / 11 [5]
  • 1951 – £500 [6]
  • 1956 – £1,364 [3]
  • 2006 – $35,000 [7]
  • 2008 – $50,000 [3]
  • 2012 – $75,000 [8]
  • 2015 – $100,000 [2]

Additional Prizes[edit]

Since 1988 two other prizes have been added to the Archibald prize event.

People's Choice Award[edit]

The People's Choice Award, in which votes from the public viewing the finalists are collected to find a winner was first awarded in 1988. The award comes with a monetary prize of A$3,500.[9]

The Packing Room Prize [edit]

In 1992 the Packing Room Prize was established, in which the staff who receive the portraits and install them in the gallery vote for their choice of winner. The prize-winner is not always an Archibald finalist. Although the prize is said to be awarded by the staff, the gallery's head storeman – since 2011 Steve Peters – holds 51% of the vote.[10] The Packing Room Prize is awarded annually and since June 2014, the prize has been A$1,500.[9]

To date there has never been an Archibald Prize winner who has also been a Packing Room Prize winner. (In fact, a number of Packing Room Prize winners have not been Archibald Prize finalists). For this reason winning the Packing Room Prize is known as "the kiss of death award".[11] (However, there were two People's Choice Awards given to Archibald Prize winners in 1988 and 2004.)

There has twice been a matching Packing Room Prize and People's Choice Award winner — although neither won the main prize — to Paul Newton's portrait of Roy Slaven and HG Nelson in 2001, and to Jan Williamson's portrait of singer/songwriter Jenny Morris in 2002.

Related Prizes / Groups / Categories[edit]

Archibald Finalists[edit]

Salon des Refusés[edit]

Since 1992, a selection of entrants not included amongst the finalists has been included in the Salon des Refusés.

Salon des Refusés People's Choice Award[edit]

Since 1999, Sydney based law firm Holding Redlich have sponsored a Salon des Refusés People's Choice Award.

Associated prizes[edit]

The Archibald Prize is held at the same time as the Sir John Sulman Prize, the Wynne Prize, the Mortimore Prize for Realism, the Australian Photographic Portrait Prize, the Young Archie competition and (before 2003) the Dobell Prize. The Archibald is the next richest portrait prize in Australia after the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

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.[citation needed]

Some works which do not make the Archibald Prize finalists are shown at the S. H. Ervin Gallery in the Archibald 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.


The prize has historically attracted a good deal of controversy and several court cases;[citation needed] the most famous was in 1943 when William Dobell's winning painting of Joshua Smith was challenged because of claims it was a caricature rather than a portrait.[citation needed]

The Archibald is one of the few art prizes in which the artist's signature is covered up so as not to be seen by the judges during initial selection for the final. Given the small size of Australia's art community, this is intended to discourage nepotism on the part of judges (several of whom are artists and several of whom have no arts qualifications at all) simply selecting their friends' works rather than making selections based on merit.[citation needed]

Max Meldrum criticised the Archibald Prize winner in 1938, saying that women could not be expected to paint as well as men.[citation needed] Nora Heysen was the first woman to win the Archibald Prize,[when?] with a portrait of Madame Elink Schuurman, the wife of the Consul General for the Netherlands.[citation needed]

In 1953 several art students including John Olsen protested William Dargie's winning portrait, the seventh time he had been awarded the prize. One protester tied a sign around her dog which said "Winner Archibald Prize – William Doggie".[citation needed] 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, and instructed that the 1972 Archibald Prize winning portrait by Clifton Pugh be used instead. This is now hanging at New Parliament House in Canberra.[citation needed]

In 1975, John Bloomfield's portrait of Tim Burstall was disqualified on the grounds that it had been painted from a blown up photograph, rather than from life.[citation needed] The prize was then awarded to Kevin Connor. In 1981 legal action was threatened by John Bloomfield claiming that the winner that year, Eric Smith, had not painted his subject from life.[citation needed] In 1983 John Bloomfield sued for the return of the 1975 prize which was unsuccessful.[citation needed] In 1995 the application form of the Archibald Prize was modified based on this to make clear that the subject must be painted from life.[citation needed]

In 1985, administration of the trust was transferred to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, after a court case where the Perpetual Trustee Company took the Australian Journalists Association Benevolent Fund to court.[citation needed]

In 1997 the painting of the Bananas in Pyjamas television characters by Evert Ploeg was deemed ineligible by the trustees because it was not a painting of a person. Although this was an incident which was seized upon by the media, hundreds of portraits each year are not accepted as finalists.[citation needed]

Another controversy involved the 2000 Archibald winner, when artist Adam Cullen lodged a complaint with the American Broadcasting Company who had used his painting, Portrait of David Wenham, in a television commercial.[citation needed]

In 2002, head packer Steve Peters singled out a painting of himself by Dave Machin as a possible winner for the Packing Room Prize. It did not win, but it was hung outside the Archibald exhibition. Following this, portraits of the head packer were no longer allowed.[citation needed]

In 2004 Craig Ruddy's image of David Gulpilil, which won both the main prize and the "People's Choice" award, was challenged on the basis that it was a charcoal sketch rather than a painting. The claim was dismissed in the Supreme Court in June 2006.[citation needed]

In 2008 Sam Leach's image of himself as Hitler made the front page of Melbourne's newspaper The Age[12] and sparked a national debate about the appropriateness of his choice of subject matter. The prize money was also changed to $50,000.


  1. ^ No Archibald Prize was awarded in 1964 or 1980; refer to List of Archibald Prize winners and the references cited there for details.
  2. ^ a b Ong, Thuy (17 July 2015). "Archibald Prize 2015: Newcastle artist Nigel Milsom wins prestigious award for Charles Waterstreet portrait". ABC News. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c The Archibald Prize, Year 11 Visual Arts,
  4. ^ Sir James Elder by Sir William Dargie, The Artists,
  5. ^ Cpl Jim Gordon VC by Sir William Dargie, The Artists,
  6. ^ "They Didn't Win – Five Paintings from the Archibald Prize Exhibition". The Sunday Herald (Sydney). Trove, National Library of Australia. 27 January 1952. 
  7. ^ Sunanda Creagh (25 March 2006). "Portrait of the artist as a holed man wins the day". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  8. ^ "Increase in prize money for 2012 Archibald, Wynne & Sulman Prizes". The Art Gallery of New South Wales. 13 September 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Enter the Archibald Prize 2014". Art Gallery of NSW. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Westwood, Matthew (9 April 2011). "Leader of the packers: Matt's in for his chop". The Australian. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  11. ^ McDonald, John (17 July 2015). "Archibald Prize 2015: first-time finalists bring new life to the contest". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  12. ^ Edwards, Lorna (29 February 2008). "Archibald Hitler portrait stirs up fury". The Age. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 

External links[edit]