With the Archibald Prize set to turn 100, the search is on for Australia’s missing portraits

The art world is on a nationwide hunt to locate Archibald portraits and photographic images that could be hanging in your very own home.

To mark the centenary of the Archibald Prize, which began in 1921, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is compiling a complete online catalogue of submissions — but it needs help.

Natalie Wilson, the gallery’s curator of Australian and pacific art, said there were gaps in the prize’s history, particularly before 2003.

A self portrait of a man wearing a hat in bright colours.
Artist Joe Furlonger’s ‘Self-portrait at Moree’ created in 2014.(Supplied: Art Gallery of NSW)

“With over 6,000 portraits created, they could have ended up anywhere — in private clubs, galleries, museums and collections,” she told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“We’re calling out to people around Australia to look in their attics or ask their great aunts and uncles if there is a portrait in their family that was perhaps painted by an Archibald artists.”

In particular, the gallery is trying to track down works painted by some of Australia’s most celebrated artists, especially from the early decades of the Archibald.

“One is from the 1930s from Enid Dickson who didn’t use paints, but pastels, in the 1930s,” Ms Wilson said.

“Gwen Grant is another who painted in the very first decade, and there’s so many works where we have no idea where they are.”

Missing Burley Griffin

The Art Gallery of NSW is particularly keen to find Constance Paul’s 1929 portrait of architect Walter Burley Griffin.

A charcoal sketch of a man with a bow tie on.
A sketch of Walter Burley Griffin in charcoal by Paul Constance in 1935.(National Library of Australia: Trove)

“We cannot find that portrait anywhere, and we thought, as the architect that designed Canberra, that someone might know where that one is,” Ms Wilson told ABC Radio Canberra.

“The problem is all that we have is a preliminary sketch, so we don’t even know what the portrait looks like.”

Although a big task, she believed many Australians would be keen to help look for the missing portraits hidden in attics or captured in family photos.

“We know where 1,500 are and we’re putting together the pieces of the Archibald puzzle so we can put together an archive online that people around Australia can use and to have a look at the history of the prize.”

Archie 100 to tour nationally

Ms Wilson will select 100 of the most interesting and unique pieces to tour Australia from May next year as part of the Archie 100.

“So many different kinds of people were portrayed and not only distinguished people in the arts, but also average Australians on many occasions,” she said.

“There is an amazing portrait in the Queensland Art Gallery of Tippo Powder, who was an Indigenous tracker from Queensland.

The gallery is also looking for missing images from the Wynne and Sulman Prize collections.

Anyone who may have a piece of the puzzle should visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales for further details.

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