The National Portrait Gallery announces this year’s big winners

The National Photographic Portrait Prize and Darling Portrait Prize have been awarded to two exceptional artists.

Words: Erin Irwin

This year saw the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, once again award its illustrious prizes to deserving portraitists – the Darling Portrait Prize and the National Photographic Portrait Prize netting winners $75,000 and $30,000 plus $20,000 in Canon equipment respectively.

The Darling Portrait Prize, which runs in honour of the National Portrait Gallery’s founder L Gordon Darling AC CMG, has this year gone to Noel McKenna for his work William Nuttall with horses in field, 2023. McKenna selected his agent William ‘Bill’ Nuttall as his sitter, and executed the portrait in his signature style, which has already won him the Sulman Prize as well as the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Trustees’ prize for watercolour… five times.

This year’s judges included Director of the National Portrait Gallery Bree Pickering, art critic and historian Tara Heffernan, and Erin Vink, Curator of First Nations art (local and global) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The judges, who had a whopping 1000 entries and 24 finalists to choose from, said of McKenna’s work that “this is an energetic and unexpected portrait. The subject shares the work with animals and the landscape. It is joyous in its execution and demonstrates the skill of an established Australian artist whose practice is assured in every way”.

The National Portrait Gallery’s other major prize the National Photographic Portrait Prize has also been awarded this year, selecting Amos Gebhardt as its 17th recipient. Alexis with moon, 2024, is an atmospheric portrait of Waanyi author Alexis Wright captured in the moonlight. Gebhardt explains: “As Alexis is a storyteller who dares to imagine future cosmologies in these dystopian times, I sought to pair her with the elemental power of the moon, a symbol of dreams and illumination”.

“Reflected in Alex’s eyes are tracings of the moon itself created through subtle movement of the human body in dialogue with the Earth’s rotation.”

A finalist in the 2022 National Photographic Prize at Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA), this year Gebhardt became a deserving winner of the National Photographic Portrait Prize, awarded by judges Isobel Parker Philip, Portrait Gallery Director, Curatorial and Collection, José da Silva, Director of Sydney’s UNSW Galleries, and curator of the 18th Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, and Curator PHOTO Australia Pippa Milne. “Alexis Wright is a noted First Nations author whose work collapses linear time and connects to ideas of the cosmos, and Gebhardt’s portrait, lit only by the moon, speaks directly to the sitter’s work”, said the judges. “Created through a long exposure, the pair of photographs turn Wright and the moon into echoed forms. Instead of a singular snapshot in time, what is represented is an extended moment”.

Not to be forgotten, the Art Handlers Awards have also been announced, with the National Photographic Portrait Prize’s Art Handler’s Award going to Shelley Xue’s (ah Yi), 2023, and that of the Darling Portrait Prize going to Nena Salobir’s Self portrait on washcloth, 2024.

“Great portraiture is compelling, fascinating and sometimes challenging and all of this is represented in this year’s Darling Portrait Prize and National Photographic Portrait Prize”, says Bree Pickering, Director of the National Portrait Gallery. “The artworks will stimulate conversation and encourage contemplation about art and identity in Australia that I know our visitors will embrace”.

All finalist works are now on display at the National Portrait Gallery, which will be on show until 13 October. Keep in mind that the People’s Choice Award for both prizes is yet to be determined, which comes with a $10,000 prize. To find out more and cast your vote, visit the National Portrait Gallery’s website here.

This article was posted 25 June 2024.

Image: Amos Gebhardt, Alexis with moon, 2024. Courtesy: the artist and the National Portrait Gallery, Ngambri and Ngunnawal Country/Canberra.

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