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Brett Whiteley, AO (7 April 1939 – 15 June 1992) was an Australian artist. He is represented in the collections of all the large Australian galleries, and was twice winner of the Archibald Prize. He had many shows in his career, and lived and painted extensively in Italy, England, Fiji and the United States.
His wins were:
- Archibald Prize: Self Portrait in the Studio
- Sulman Prize: Interior with Time Past
- Wynne Prize: The Jacaranda Tree (On Sydney Harbour)
- Archibald Prize: Art, Life and the other thing
- Sulman Prize: Yellow Nude
- Wynne Prize: Summer at Carcoar
1978 was the only time that all three prizes have ever gone to the same person.
His first Archibald win, Self Portrait in the Studio shows a view of his studio at Lavender Bay overlooking Sydney Harbour, with his reflection in a mirror shown at the bottom of the picture, while the painting is primarily a look at his studio, shown in deep, bluish tones. As with many of his works, the viewer is led deeper into the picture with minute detail, and a view of Sydney Harbour is on the left which establishes the location of the picture. These paintings along with some of the other works, show Whiteley’s love for ultramarine blue, Matisse, for collecting objects and for a love of Sydney Harbour.
His second Archibald win, Art, Life and the other thing, again shows his willingness to experiment with different media such as photography and collage, and his respect for art history, including an image of the famous 1943 William Dobell portrait of Joshua Smith, which won a court case against people who claimed it was a caricature, not a portrait. He also experimented with warping and manipulating a straight self portrait and altering and distorting the image, incorporating his pictorial sense of addiction.
He later won the Wynne Prize again, in 1984, with The South Coast After Rain.
Whiteley became increasingly dependent on alcohol and became addicted to heroin, leading to bouts of schizophrenia. Whiteley’s work output began a steep decline, although its market value continued to climb. He made several attempts to dry out and get off drugs completely, all ultimately unsuccessful. In 1989, he and Wendy, whom he had always credited as his ‘muse’, divorced.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1991, Brett Whiteley was appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia.
In 1999, Whiteley’s painting The Jacaranda Tree (1977), which had won the Wynne Prize, sold for $1,982,000, a record for a modern Australian painter. Before this, his previous highest-selling work was The Pond at Bundanon for $649,500. In 2007 his painting The Olgas for Ernest Giles sold for an Australian record of $3.5 million. On 7 May 2007, Opera House, (which took Whiteley a decade to paint, and which he exchanged with Qantas for a period of free air travel) sold for $2.8 million, in Sydney.