Doortje and I went yesterday to see the Archibald Prize finalists at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, the only place in Victoria they are to be shown, as far as I can work out.
The thirty-nine portraits in the prize shortlist were on display, including the winner, Del Kathryn Barton's hugo. She is also a previous winner, and worth googling to see her art.
We were taken aback by the crowd and the organisation. Last time we visited the Mornington gallery, there were only a handful of other people to be seen. This time, the surrounding parks were full of cars, with attendants directing traffic, and there was a twenty minute to half-hour queue waiting to get access to the building. They'd thoughtfully provided a great long marquee around the outside of the building so that the queue was "indoors", which was just as well because it was cold and blustery.
When we finally paid our money and got inside, it was more difficult to get a good look at the paintings than it had been at the Monet exhibition in the city.
There were works that we liked, of course, and others which might not qualify in some people's minds as portraits. Do you need to see a person's eyes in a portrait? Perhaps the definition has changed over the years, or maybe it's harder to come up with something original.
I liked the colour and composition of Michael Zavros' self-portrait of Bad dad, with its reference to Narcissus, and also the dark portrait of Warren Ellis, Helmy's former music teacher.
The winning painting had extremely fine detail, with every hair of the animal's fur and Hugo Weaving's beard meticulously presented, as well as the background reminiscent of Aboriginal dot art.
Doortje liked the portrait of Dr Catherine Hamlin AC by Sally Ryan. The knee rug of knitted squares was beautifully done, as well as the traditional face and hands.
You can see all the paintings with descriptions of the subject and artist on the Art Gallery of NSW website, along with a slideshow of the art, here