Small painting takes out nation’s biggest portrait prize

Victorian artist Graeme Drendel takes out Doug Moran National Portrait Prize with portrait of fellow artist.

Words: Charlotte Middleton

Australia’s richest portrait prize, the $150,000 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, has this year been awarded to Victorian artist Graeme Drendel for his painting of fellow artist Lewis Miller.

The winning work – one of the smaller entries in the 2022 prize – was chosen unanimously out of a field of 30 finalists, which also included a submission by Miller of a portrait of Drendel himself.

Drendel (represented by Australian Galleries, Melbourne & Sydney; and Beaver Galleries, Canberra) was a finalist of the prize in 2021 and 2017 and an Archibald finalist in 2018. He is known for his figurative work, where subjects are often portrayed in solitude and introspection. He has exhibited since 1990 and his work features in many private and gallery collections including the National Gallery of Australia.

The 2022 Prize was judged by Gerard Vaughan AM, Australian art historian and museum administrator; Lucy Culliton, one of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists; and Peter Moran, representing the Moran Arts Foundation. Doug Moran and Greta Moran AO established the Moran Arts Foundation in 1988 to fulfill their dream of helping Australian artists along the path to excellence.

“I was drawn to Graeme Drendel’s painting of Lewis Miller in the first round of judging,” commented Culliton.

“The portrait has everything I was looking for. A freshness of paint. A likeness of the subject. The eyes meet the viewer. The palette of colours used are subtle but mixed in good skin colours… A beautifully painted painting.”

Vaughan added: “It is a quietly powerful portrayal of a familiar face, a character study both reflective and demanding attention on account of its emotional strength and credibility… Drendel’s painterly technique is superb, skilled and subtle with faultless lighting and tonality, and it demands close looking.”

Whilst contemporary portraiture is often characterised by large size, Drendel’s winning portrait is unusual for its diminutive size, coming in at just 30 x 26cm.

“A smaller scale can provide opportunities for the artist to represent a clearer sense of reality, intimacy and authenticity,” noted Vaughan.

The annual Doug Moran National Portrait Prize judges original artworks from Australian artists, capturing Australians from all walks of life, whether a public figure or someone from the artist’s circle of experience. Works are painted at least partly from life with the sitter known to the artist and aware of the artist’s intention to enter the Prize.

There will be no Doug Moran National Portrait Prize physical finalist exhibition in 2022, with all finalists instead appearing in an online exhibition via https://moranarts.org.au/2022-portrait-prize/.

This article was posted 30 November 2022.

Image: Graeme Drendel’s portrait of Lewis Miller.

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