Look behind the Archibald paintings in ‘Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize’

Art + Book Extract

Art+

As the touring exhibition Archie 100 currently shows at Geelong Art Gallery, the book Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize looks at the stories behind both the artists and sitters across every decade of the Archibald.

Including both finalist and winning portraits, the last 100 years of the Archibald is explored across varying themes, unearthed by curator Natalie Wilson. We share three stories from the book: Caroline Williams’s Mr Georges Mora from 1988, Sally Ross’s The Huxleys from 2018, and Vincent Namatjira’s Studio self-portrait from 2018.

Caroline Williams, ‘Mr Georges Mora‘ 1988, oil on canvas, 152.5 × 183 cm. Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria © Caroline Williams.

 

Caroline Williams’s Mr Georges Mora: 1988 Archibald Finalist Work

Originally from Aotearoa New Zealand, Caroline Williams
settled in Melbourne in 1981 after living in London and
Sydney. The subject of this portrait is influential art dealer
and patron Georges Mora (1913–92), whom Williams
married in 1985.

In this portrait, Williams has shrewdly referenced James
Abbott McNeill Whistler’s famous 1871 portrait of his
mother, Arrangement in grey and black no 1. Although
similar in some ways – the pose, pared back composition
and neutral colour scheme – we can sense both the artist’s
and sitter’s playful and satirical humour beneath the formal
stylisation. Mora’s knowing and mischievous gaze, slight
smile and smart suit with pink tie allude to his renowned
European style and charm.

Mora fled Nazi Germany for Paris in the early 1930s and
became involved with the French Resistance. He emigrated
to Australia with his first wife Mirka (the couple separated
in 1970 and later divorced), arriving in Melbourne in 1951.
Mora established himself as an art dealer and restaurateur
and became a leading figure on the national art scene,
founding Tolarno Galleries in 1967. The year of this portrait,
Mora helped organise the Australian Contemporary Art
Fair and was appointed chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des
Lettres by the French government.

In 2006, Williams created the Georges Mora Foundation
and Fellowship, which provides support and promotion of
contemporary art and artists in Australia.

 

Sally Ross, ‘The Huxleys‘ 2018, oil on wood panel, 130 × 110 cm. Private collection © Sally Ross.

 

Sally Ross’s The Huxleys: 2018 Archibald Finalist Work

Melbourne-based painter Sally Ross is known for her
distinctive landscapes and portraits, their surfaces filled
with intricate detail and mark-making. Completing
graduate and post-graduate degrees in Melbourne in the
late 1980s, she then spent eight years in France, studying,
working and painting.

A traditional easel painter, Ross finds inspiration in vintage
photography and images in old journals, books and
postcards. Historical portraiture also informs her work,
and her double portrait of gender-bending performance
artists Garrett and Will Huxley is suggestive of the marriage
portraits of Jan van Eyck and Piero della Francesca, and
the fresco found in Pompeii of Terentius Neo and his
wife. Elemental forms and the subtle dichotomy between
abstraction and representation within her compositions
reflect Ross’s persistent dialogue with art across the ages.

Ross wrote:

“I saw the mysterious potential for art/civilisation to be
expressed within the handsome duo’s magical physical
presence. This portrait is a homage to the pure folie
of the Huxleys’ performances, as well as hairstyles
found in the portraits of Otto Dix and Diego Velzquez.
I wanted a deliberately distant, expressionless pose that
transforms their glittery bodysuits and cheap, teased
wigs into a portrait evoking the timeless silhouettes
of antiquity and ‘old paintings’ I so admire.”

Vincent Namatjira, ‘Studio self-portrait’ 2018, synthetic polymer on linen canvas, 152 x 198 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Gift of Geoff Ainsworth AM and Johanna Featherstone 2018 © Vincent Namatjira.

 

Vincent Namatjira’s Studio self-portrait: 2018 Archibald Finalist Work

Vincent Namatjira is a Western Aranda man from Ntaria
(Hermannsburg) and lives in the community of Indulkana
in the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) region,
South Australia, where he works at Iwantja Arts.

Following the death of his mother, he was disconnected
from his culture, language and Country while growing
up in the foster system in Perth. Namatjira only became
aware of the work of his famous great-grandfather, Albert
Namatjira (1902–59), when he returned to Ntaria as a young
man. After several years working in land management on
Country, he was encouraged by his wife Natasha and her
family to explore his artistic heritage. Entirely self-taught,
and dreaming of following in his great-grandfather’s
footsteps, Vincent Namatjira began a series of portraits,
imagining Albert’s turbulent life through photographs
and newspapers.

Namatjira recounts:

“Behind the wheel of the green truck is my [great]
grandfather, Albert Namatjira. Painting is in my blood,
it’s a part of our family. I admire the way that Albert
made his own path with watercolour landscapes of his
Country. I’m finding my own way now with painting,
and I want to keep fighting that battle in the studio
every day.”

Namatjira became the first Aboriginal artist to win the
Archibald Prize in 2020 with his portrayal of AFL footballer
and Aboriginal activist Adam Goodes.

William Dargie’s 1956 Archibald Prize-winning portrait of
Albert Namatjira is also included in Archie 100.

Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize is published in association with the Archie 100 exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales Jun–Sep 2021, and touring to venues around Australia 2021−24. Distributed by Thames and Hudson, it can be purchased here.

Archie 100
Geelong Art Gallery
6 November—20 February 2022