Archibald in Armidale

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The Archibald Prize 2015 Regional Tour is coming to NERAM this November, and the gallery is expecting many people from across the region and further afield to come and see it. But what is the Archibald Prize, and why is it so popular – and even contentious?


The Archibald Prize is one of the great events in the Australian art world,” said Robert Heather, Director of the New England Regional Art Museum. “Every year there is a huge media circus around the prize announcement, thousands of people flock to see the exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, while artists and critics loudly proclaim how they either love it or loathe it.

“This year the regional tour exhibition is coming to Armidale, and our visitors will be able to judge for themselves from a selection of paintings by leading artists of people ‘distinguished in the arts, letters, sciences or politics’.

“What this translates into is large paintings of instantly recognisable figures such as musicians Paul Kelly and Daniel Johns, actors Michael Caton and John Jarratt, fashion designer Jenny Kee, politicians Bob Katter and Cory Bernardi, as well as a diverse variety of artists, poets, writers, collectors and gallerists. It is a vibrant and eclectic mix of painting styles and subjects that has something for everyone, which is probably why it is so popular.”

The Archibald Prize is named after the bequest of Jules Francois Archibald, founding editor of The Bulletin magazine and a passionate supporter of a distinctly Australian style of nationalism, journalism and the arts.

The prize is actually the oldest and most prestigious art award in Australia and has been given to an artist almost every year since 1921 (it wasn’t awarded in 1964, 1968 and 1980, as no entries were considered worthy enough).


The Archibald Prize has been the subject of court cases and challenges, including the famous case in 1943 when William Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith was described as a “caricature” not portraiture, and in 2004 when Craig Ruddy’s portrait of the actor David Gulpilil was challenged on the basis of being a charcoal sketch rather than a painting.

The Archibald Prize is an open competition, and anyone who has been a resident in Australia or New Zealand in the previous 12 months can enter to win the $100,000 prize money. The prize is awarded by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW, and in 2015 there were 832 entries sent to the art gallery for the judging, of which 47 were selected for the final exhibition, almost half of which had never entered the prize before.

The 2015 winner was the painting Judo house pt6 (the white bird) by Newcastle artist Nigel Milsom. The portrait of Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet (the inspiration of the ABC TV series Rake) came about after he represented the artist in court on armed robbery charges.

“My portrait is an attempt to depict him as a giant: part-man, part-mythical creature with hands that appear otherworldly, as though the anatomy of his hands has been designed to grasp unnatural disasters, natural,” writes the artist in the exhibition catalogue.

Local students will be invited to submit their own portraits through the Young Archie competition sponsored by ANZ bank, to enter visit the NERAM website and download an entry form or visit the exhibition.

The Archibald Prize 2015 Regional Tour will be on show at the New England Regional Art Museum from 20 November 2015 until 10 January 2016. For further information, visit

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