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Archie 100

In 1921, thanks to a bequest left by journalist JF Archibald after his passing in 1919, Australia's most esteemed portrait prize was established in an effort to foster the craft of portraiture and support artists, whilst commemorating the memory of some great Australians. More than a century later, the Archibald Prize continues to capture, immortalise and delight.

By Tierney Seccull

This month, a selection of works take up residence on the walls of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) for Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize. This special touring exhibition, presented by the Art Gallery of NSW, offers a glimpse into the changing face of Australia through portraiture over the last hundred years. 

In 2021, Archie 100 embarked on a national road trip around Australia, giving arts lovers a glimpse at some of the greatest portrait works Australia has produced. With the tour comes the opportunity to become reacquainted with – or meet for the first time – the characters immortalised within them. 

MAGNT Director Adam Worrall says it’s exciting to see this selection of works come together. 

“This is an amazing opportunity for us to bring pieces from the last 100 years of the Archibald Prize to Darwin. It’s going to be an unforgettable experience,” he says. 

“The Prize is one of those things where, every year, people are waiting for those four words ‘and the winner is’. It really has the chance to transform an artist’s career, and even the sitter, as well. You might have a subject not necessarily in the public eye that gets elevated across the country, and everyone then knows who this person is because of the Archibald.” 

The Archibald attracted over 6,000 works over the course of the century, which made the Archie 100 selection an arduous one. The non-acquisitive nature of the prize meant that the full collection wasn’t on hand to select from, with many pieces tucked away in private collections. 

Art Gallery of NSW Curator Natalie Wilson and her team embarked on a worldwide treasure hunt, and after more than 30,000 emails, and years of hunting, they managed to track down 1,800 works. Condensing this into a touring exhibition of almost 100 pieces, to ensure adequate representation of artists and characters over the years, was quite the feat.

“From over 6,000 works – and it’s still hard to say definitively – but we know where around 1,800 works are. It’s from that group of works that I then whittled down to about 200, then whittled that down to about 150, and then finally made the selection of works for Archie 100. My goal was to have close to 10 works from every decade.”

Stopping off at just eight locations across the country, MAGNT was lucky enough to make the cut on the Archie 100 itinerary. Wilson says she’s excited to join forces with the NT. 

“The Art Gallery of NSW has always wanted to collaborate with MAGNT, it just seemed like such a wonderful opportunity … The tour started in Geelong, which is Archibald’s birth place and a wonderful place for it to start, and has since gone to Queensland, South Australia, and back in New South Wales,” she says. 

“It needed to go to the NT, and of course to Darwin, so it’s very exciting. MAGNT has undertaken all of these wonderful public programs ... For me, the most exciting thing has to be the fact that they’re really honing in on a work from their own collection.” 

The artwork Wilson refers to is a portrait Geoff La Gerche painted of Granny Lum Loy. MAGNT Director Adam Worrall says it’s a beautiful local example of how the Archibald has immortalised one of our own. 

“Geoff La Gerche came to Darwin for a residency in 1979. When I spoke to him, he said it was amazing that this elderly woman, who had lost her husband and survived Cyclone Tracy, was still working so hard to rebuild her life,” he says. 

“The portrait is a remarkable work, and normally lives in the MAGNT collection, so it’s been on loan to the Art Gallery of NSW for the touring exhibition. And it’ll be amazing to bring her back, to show her in context with portraiture from the last 100 years.” 

Archie 100 graces the gallery walls until late June, and the MAGNT team has gone all out to offer a jam-packed public program to run alongside the exhibition. There are guided tours, workshops, performances and special talks, including one from nine-time finalist Kate Beynon whose artwork graces this cover. There’s even a paint and sip party! The public program is as diverse as the artworks represented in Archie 100, with something for everyone. 

This is an incredible opportunity to witness some of Australia’s most celebrated artists and treasured characters, and see how the Archibald Prize has transformed the face of our country over the last hundred years. 

Archie 100 Public Program

There’s so much Archie 100 goodness to sink your teeth into over the next couple of months, so check out the MAGNT website and pencil in your plans. Here are our hot picks for April!

MAGNT Foundation Volunteer Guided Tours
You’re in for a treat, as passionate, arts-loving volunteers take you on a Highlights Tour of Archie 100.
WHEN SAT 22 & 29 APR | 11AM

Talk: Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize
Archie 100 is a fascinating walk through a century of Australian life, art and culture. Join Art Gallery of NSW Curator of Australian Art, Natalie Wilson for a special talk, and learn about the famous faces and local heroes immortalised in the works.

Children’s Workshop: Paintbrush Portrait Painting
Budding artists aged 6-10 are invited to transform old paintbrushes into works of art, using dry paint to transform them into portraits inspired by Archie 100.
WHEN SAT 22 APR | 10.30AM-1PM

Youth Workshop: Self-Portrait Collages
Young folks (11+) create self-portraits using pages from a repurposed encyclopaedia, acetate sheets, sharpies and paint pens.
WHEN SAT 22 APR | 1.30-4PM

Check out more of the packed program here.

Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize
COST $12 | $10 CONC | $5 CHILD U15

Thumbnail: John Brack, 'Barry Humphries in the character of Mrs Everage' 1969, Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Contemporary Art Purchase Grant from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, 1975 © Helen Brack 

Header: Kate Beynon ‘Self-portrait with guardian spirits’ 2009 –10, synthetic polymer paint on linen, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2012 © Kate Beynon/Copyright Agency, 2023

Inset: Geoff La Gerche, 'A true Territorian: Portrait of Grandma Lum Loy' (detail) 1979, MAGNT, gift of the artist, 1993 © Geoff La Gerche. Photo: MAGNT/Mark Sherwood

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