UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait

Although this exercise suggests further analysis of one of the works seen at a portrait gallery, I would like to celebrate the great Sydney institution of the annual Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is awarded for the best portrait entered, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’. It was first awarded in 1921 and was established by a bequest from journalist Jules François Archibald to foster portraiture, support artists, and commemorate great Australians. The Archibald Prize is a huge event, complete with controversies, Packing Room and People’s Choice awards and a Salon des Refusés. It has generated ongoing debate on the nature of a portait, with one prize-winner being disputed in court as a caricature and distortion (the challenge failed). An often seen quote from Dobell, the artist involved, was that he was “trying to create something, instead of copying something. To me, a sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is living in itself, regardless of its subject. So long as people expect paintings to be simply coloured photographs they get no individuality and in the case of portraits, no characterisation. The real artist is striving to depict his subject’s character and to stress the caricature, but at least it is art which is alive.”

Ben Quilty Margaret Olley oil on linen 170 x 150cm

Ben Quilty
Margaret Olley
2011 oil on linen 170 x 150cm


Ben Quilty won the Archibald Prize in 2011 with this portrait of artist Margaret Olley.

quilty_02The large scale and tight framing of the face give an almost overwhelming sense of a dominating presence. On the face large areas of smooth white-primed linen support thick, generous, yet precise sweeps of rich paint, and dense, textured impasto fills the background. The work seems close to the boundary of representation and abstraction.

The bright colours reflect the colours of Olley’s own work, which is often still-lifes of her own home – an eclectic, colourful jumble of treasures and inspiration. Margaret Olley, a grand dame of Australian painting, died only a few months after this work won the Archibald. Her home and its clutter were so well-known, seen as so central to Olley’s work and legacy, that it has now been recreated within the Tweed Regional Gallery (see http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre). The straw hat which frames her face in the portrait is classic Olley, as is the general expression – compare for example Greg Weight’s 1991 photograph (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?&irn=811&acno=2004.62). Here she looks to me a touch tired, but alert, determined, opinionated, colourful… I would say that both the features and the character would have been clearly recognisable to most visitors to the exhibition.

This portrait was painted for the specific purpose of entry in the Archibald Prize. The artist, Ben Quilty, is a young star of Australian painting. His work is often gritty and masculine, so the portrait showed a new side to his work. Margaret Olley was a very successful and highly respected painter who has also contributed greatly to Australian art both by mentorship of younger artists and through philanthropic gifts. Olley was one of the judges who selected Quilty as winner of the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2002. Their mutual affection and respect could be seen in footage taped at the time of the Archibald award (see http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/archibald-wynne-sulman-prizes-2011/video/).

The portrait was clearly very successful in that it won the Prize it was created for. It still hangs in a place of honour in the New South Wales Art Gallery. Whether it is successful as a portrait or was the “best” work in competition is a matter of debate – as is every Archibald. The competition has a strong populist slant and this was a popular selection. The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes together form an annual exhibition that gets a lot of press and a lot of visitors (The Wynne Prize is for landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture; the Sulman Prize is for a subject or genre painting or mural.)

This exercise asks for a “formal portrait” and I have wondered if my selection fits. Being so tightly cropped it has virtually none of the additional identifying marks of the subject. The painting style, level of detail and type of finish don’t match the standard row of heads one sees in a boardroom or the corridor of some institution. However as a portrait by a modern painter, intended for a popular, celebrity-focused portrait competition, capturing not just the features but the character of a well known and admired icon of recent Australian painting, I think it is a very good example of a formal portrait.

Resources

Archibald Prize, including past winners: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/archibald/

Australian Story profile of Quilty: http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/onthewarpath/default.htm

Ben Quilty’s website: http://www.benquilty.com/

Discussion of the Archibald and other 2011 entrants: http://theconversation.com/archibald-argy-bargy-as-ben-quilty-wins-populist-prize-841

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait

1 Response to “UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait”



  1. 1 UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait | Fibres of Being Trackback on April 20, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.




Calendar of Posts

April 2014
M T W T F S S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Categories


%d bloggers like this: