I don’t imagine the newest member of the Royal Family was named after the Archibald Prize but it was a happy coincidence between his birth and the finals of the Prize. The Archibald has been going only a bit longer than the Queen, having been first awarded in 1921. Its enduring impact says a lot about our interest in portraits. This year’s finalists, drawn from a record 919 entries, showed remarkable variety of subject and treatment.
The Packing Room Prize kicked things off with Tessa Mackay’s Through the looking glass, an agreeable portrait of David Wenham; not his first appearance in the role of an Archibald subject and likely to be in the running as People’s Choice. The odds are always against the Packing Room Prize winner also taking out the big one. So it proved to be again this year. The winner of the 2019 Archibald is Tony Costa with an intriguing and striking portrait of fellow artist Lindy Lee.
For many an arresting and poignant picture will be John Beard’s Edmund (+ Bill). His subject is Edmund Capon who died in London on 13 March. The (+ Bill) refers to the background image, a Bill Henson photograph. Edmund was a great admirer and supporter of Henson’s work. It’s a nice coincidence that an exhibition of Henson’s new work has just opened at the Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
John Beard says he wanted his painting to ‘reveal Edmund’s confident energy’; in fact it seems to depict Edmund fading before our eyes.