AGNSW Archibald Portrait Project


Interesting art projects always start in interesting ways.



"What," said Scotty, "did the Trustees say about you today? They said I was a caricature and I replied hotly, Suppose I am, I'm a work of Art." "Yes," said Elaine, "the same with me, he has made me a trifle rabbity, but nevertheless, he's caught something of my personality, don't you think? After all that is one of the most important things about a portrait."

"I agree," said Scotty, "and who is to say whether a portrait ceases to be a portrait because the characterisation is so strong that it merges into the realm of caricature."

"Yes," agreed Elaine warmly, "a portrait should be much more than a mechanical reproduction of people's faces and clothes."

At this juncture, a tall, scholarly figure stood impressively at the door, paused a moment and slowly made his way down the centre of the Gallery. A vigorous personality shone from the steadfast eyes, kindliness and intelligence were there too, accentuated in the bearded face.

Sir Lionel Lindsay was the first to recognise the new visitor. "Look", he exclaimed, dumbfounded, "Mr J.F. Archibald himself, of all the amazing..." He didn't finish, for Mr Archibald had stopped and the portrait people were gathering round him in excitement and expectation.

"Good evening, friends," he was saying, "a rumour of the happenings here today has made me not only turn in my grave, but rise right up out of it, cracking my tombstone and uprooting the daisies. I gathered up my aura and ectoplasm and came straight here to put things straight. Now listen," he went on, 'when I left my money for this prize, i intended it to be awarded to the year's best work of art through the medium of portraiture; but it seems this has not been carried out for many years and I can stand it no longer. A true portrait should not only portray the sitter's body, but should reveal his character, his spirit and his essence. If it fails to do this, it is neither a portrait nor a work of Art.

Extract of abridged article in LOOK, March 2004, a publication of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Original author was Alison Rehfisch.


The Archibald Portrait Competition, established in 1921, has had it's detractors over the years. Perhaps none more than the 1942 scandal of a court challenge to William Dobell's winning portrait of Joshua Smith, which was claimed to be a caricature. Artist Alison Rehfisch wrote the satirical article entitled 'An Archibald Fantasy, poking fun at the way the winning paintings were selected. Times have changed since then and now there are three prizes: the Packing Room Prize, the People's Prize, and of course the Archibald.

In addition, the BaldArchies  ( ) spoof caricatures, has been institutionalised.

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The Perry Cross portrait required travel to Australia’s Gold Coast for several weeks.

Perry was making news at the time as the Gold Coast’s ‘Superman’, being modelled after America’s Superman, Steve Reeves. As quadriplegics, both campaigned to raise funds for stem cell research and to find a cure for paralysis. Since Reeves died Perry has continued to do so and leads an extraordinary life in his restricted capacity.

Perry’s story was the motivation for the portrait.

The project was supported by the Sofitel Gold Coast Hotel ( ) offering foyer space as studio.

Working in public had it’s advantages for all concerned. Good will all ‘round plus publicity. The project became public interest and was interviewed by local print and TV media.

The work was submitted along with over 800 other entries in The Art Gallery of New South Wales’s annual Archibald Portrait Prize. This is the oldest, one of the richest, and certainly the most cherished art prize in Australia.

One in eight hundred are not good odds. The Perry Portrait never made the cut.

It’s home now is in Perry’s alma mater, the University of Queensland.

You can read Perry Cross’s remarkable story at his website ( ).

The interesting story below demonstrates the heat generated by the Archibald Portrait Prize and this artistic intensity continues today.

Read more about the Archibald at ( )