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The Art Gallery of NSW's Prestigious Archibald Prize Has Announced Its 2021 Finalists

An equal number of male and female artists have made the shortlist for the first time in the award's history.
By Sarah Ward and Cordelia Williamson
May 27, 2021
By Sarah Ward and Cordelia Williamson
May 27, 2021

Australia's most prestigious portrait award is almost upon us for another year, with the paintings vying for the 2021 Archibald Prize just announced. Ahead of anointing the winner on Friday, June 4, 52 portraits have just been shortlisted for the coveted gong — and, for the first time in its now 100-year history, an equal number of male and female artists have made the cut.

More of this year's portraits depict women than men, too, although that isn't a first. Among the highlights: Kirsty Neilson's Making Noise, a portrait of Grace Tame — and Oliver Watts' Dorian Gray (Eryn Jean Norville). Other finalists include Matthew Clarke's Del Kathryn Barton is a good listener; Rachel by Thea Anamara Perkins, which depicts the latter's aunt and Jasper Jones filmmaker Rachel Perkins; and Natasha Bieniek's image of actor Rachel Griffiths.

Mirra Whale's Repose, which features fellow artist Ben Quilty, has been shortlisted as well — as has Jonathan Dalton's portrait of artist Ramesh Nithiyendran. Kathrin Longhurst's Kate is in the running, and has also taken out the coveted 2021 Archibald Packing Room Prize, which is chosen by the packing room team. The portrait depicts singer and songwriter Kate Ceberano.

Archibald Prize 2021 finalist. Kathrin Longhurst, 'Kate'. Oil on linen, 122 x 122 cm. © the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carte.

Also spanning Sally M Nangala Mulda's Two town camp stories, Eunice Djerrkŋu Yunupiŋu's Me and my sisters, Peter Berner's Stop pouting, you've had your turn and Kim by Kim Leutwyler — all self-portraits — the 52 shortlisted works are all in contention for the Archibald's $100,000 prize.

Speculation about who will be awarded the coveted prize — and, more often than not, the Archibald winner itself — usually causes much-heated debate. From 2018's five-time Archibald finalist Yvette Coppersmith's first win to Tony Costa's win with his painting of fellow artist Lindy Lee — the first portrait of an Asian Australian to pick up the prize — it's hard a win to pick. All that's really assured is that it'll be a portrait of a person by an Australian. In 2020, Vincent Namatjira's portrait of Adam Goodes did the honours, and also marked the first the award has gone to an Indigenous artist.

Archibald Prize 2021 finalist. Oliver Watts, 'Dorian Gray (Eryn Jean Norvill)'. Acrylic on canvas, 213.5 x 137.5 cm. © the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carte

Held at Sydney's Art Gallery of NSW every year, the Archibald runs in conjunction with the Wynne and Sulman Prizes — recognising the best landscape painting of Australian scenery or figure sculpture, and the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project, respectively.

This year, 2021's winning works and finalists will be on display from Saturday, June 4–Sunday, September 26. And if it feels like all of this just happened recently, that's because 2020's Archibald Prize happened later in the year due to the pandemic.

If you don't agree with the judges, you can cast your own vote for People's Choice, which will be announced on Wednesday, September 1.


Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, NSW — June 4–September 26, 2021
Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale, Victoria — October 8–November 21, 2021
Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Art Centre, Gymea, NSW — December 3–January 16, 2022
Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Maitland, NSW — January 23–March 6, 2022
Cowra Regional Art Gallery, Cowra, NSW — March 18–June 22, 2022
Manning Regional Art Gallery, Taree, NSW — July 8–August 21, 2022

If you can't make it to any of the above dates, you can check out the award winners and finalists of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes on the Art Gallery of NSW website.

Top image: Archibald Prize 2021 finalist. Kirsty Neilson, 'Making noise'. Oil on linen, 50.1 x 60.1 cm, © the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Felicity Jenkins

Published on May 27, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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