The Art Gallery of NSW’s ever popular Archibald Prize for portraiture receives over 700 entries each year. But just who was the prize’s namesake? Jules Francois Archibald, francophile and journalist, has had a look in before on Scratchings Sydney’s Surface with a look at his literary connections to the poet Henry Lawson.
Archibald was a great supporter of the arts, in particular writing. But his benefaction of the arts went beyond the written word. When he died in 1919, he left behind a large estate, and under the terms of his will, set aside a portion of it for the creation of an annual portrait prize, coordinated and judged by the Art Gallery of NSW’s trustees.
There have been many controversies over the lifetime of the award, partly due to differing opinions between traditional notions about portraiture and more modern notions of art. The most notorious scandal was when William Dobell’s portrait of his friend and fellow artist, Joshua Smith, took out the prize in 1943. A close second in the scandal stakes was when John Bloomfield’s portrait of film maker Tim Burstill, painted from a photograph, won in 1975; he was disqualified. Despite the scandals, the Archibald Prize remains Australia’s best known and most popular portrait prize.