The Archibald Prize

Archibald Prize,Archibald_winner_2017,Mitch Cairns,Agatha Gothe-Snape

Winner Archibald Prize 2017 – Artist: Mitch Cairns, Subject: Agatha Gothe-Snape

Have you been to see the Archibald Prize yet at the NSW art gallery? A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the Salon des Refuses. Today let’s take a look at some of the works on offer at the Archibald, Wynne and Sir John Sulman prizes.

Do you know what the different prize categories are? The Archibald Prize is awarded for the best portrait painting and the Sir John Sulman Prize is awarded in one of the following categories: the best subject painting, genre painting or wall mural project by an Australian artist.

A genre painting is normally a composition representing some aspect or aspects of everyday life and may feature figurative, still-life, interior or figure-in-landscape themes. A subject painting, in contrast, is idealised or dramatised. Typically, a subject painting takes its theme from history, poetry, mythology or religion. In both cases, however, the style may be figurative, representative, abstract or semi-abstract.

A mural is a picture fixed directly to a wall or ceiling as part of an architectural and/or decorative scheme.

Established within the terms of Sir John Sulman’s bequest, the prize was first awarded in 1936. Each year the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW invite a guest artist to judge this open competition. Finalists are displayed in an exhibition at the Gallery (although in the early years all entrants were hung).


One of the most eagerly awaited awards is the Packing Room Prize.  This year it was won by Peter Smeeth with his portrait – Lisa Wilkinson AM.

Archibald Prize


The winner of the Wynne prize for 2017 was Betty Kuntiwa Pumani with the painting Antara, pictured below.

“Antara in South Australia is an extremely important site for Betty Kuntiwa Pumani and her family. Antara is her mother’s country. This place and its significant maku (witchetty grub) tjukurpa were a constant in the paintings of her mother, the late Kunmanara (Milatjari) Pumani. Today, Betty and her older sister Ngupulya Pumani are proud custodians of this country; they map its significance and hold its stories strong in their paintings.”  Quote from NSW Art Gallery.

archibald prize


The Sulman prize was awarded this year to Joan Ross, with her work ‘Oh history, you lied to me.’ This is what Joan Ross has to say about her work.

“This work continues my interrogation of colonial collecting and of Australian colonisation. I imagine history is an unfaithful lover, in his own bubble with his lies, seduction and manipulation, only seeing from his position. Recreating the Leverian Museum, a catacomb of curiosities including those from Captain Cook’s voyages, and using my signature hi-vis as a metaphor for colonisation, I am critical of the collecting mentality as an ongoing disease fuelled by superiority and greed.” 

Archibald prize

As always the Archibald is always worth a look.