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Mitch Cairns has won the 2017 Archibald Prize for his portrait of his partner, artist Agatha Gothe-Snape, the Art Gallery of New South Wales Board of Trustees' David Gonski announced at the Gallery today. Cairns will carry away a cash prize of $100,000 for the poplar portraiture prize, which is awarded to the best painting of a notable Australian.
Gonski said that the decision had come down to two paintings, with Cairns' portrait eventually carrying the day, while the other – Jun Chen's portrait of former gallery owner and art dealer Ray Hughes – was Highly Commended.
In his notes about the artwork, Cairns said: "In this painting, Agatha is both an active subject and a recalcitrant muse embracing and resisting simultaneously any idea of what it is to be fixed. Ultimately this is what is most attractive about Agatha. She embodies an uncompromising agency whilst having the grace to accept the ready complications inherent within our life as artists. I composed this portrait with love in the full knowledge of its inevitable and palpable quake."
Mitch Cairns' portrait of Agatha Gothe-Snape. Image courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales
This is Cairns' fourth time as an Archibald finalist. In 2014 and 2015 he was Highly Commended for his portraits of Reg Richardson and Peter Powditch respectively. Cairns, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) in painting from the National Art School, was awarded the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2012.
Art Gallery of NSW Director Michael Brand said of Cairns' Archibald Prize-winning painting: "The sensitive portrait carries Cairns' signature playful complexity and this, along with his composition of form and colour, willl no doubt draw comparisons with the style of Matisse and other modernist masters."
Anne Ryan, the Gallery's curator of Australian art, said that Cairns' graphic painting incorporates an economical use of palette and line. "There is a clarity to the collection of objects surrounding Agatha that highlights the domestic nature of the portrait, revealing tell-tale marks of the couple's home life," said Ryan.
Betty Kuntiwa Pumani took out the $50,000 Wynne Prize, awarded to the best landscape painting of Australian scenery or figurative sculpture, for her Antara while the $40,000 Sulman Prize – awarded to the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project in oil, watercolour or mixed media – went to Joan Ross for her Oh history, you lied to me. John Murray was announced as the winner of the Trustees' Watercolour Prize for his painting Bellinger River, Thora.
Betty Kuntiwa Pumani's Antara. Image courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The winner of the 2017 Archibald Packing Room Prize was announced last week as Peter Smeeth for his portrait of Lisa Wilkinson. This year's Archibald Prize attracted more than 820 entries, 43 of which were chosen as finalists.
Joan Ross' Oh history, you lied to me. Image courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The finalists in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from July 29 until October 22, after which the Archibald finalists will tour until October 2018