Top 10 Art Prizes in Australia

Whether it’s to enter or to admire, an art prize has a pull for artists and collectors alike. It’s a sure way of finding innovative pieces that possess skill and technique, yet remain original and stimulating in concept. Having the chance to exhibit work by esteemed galleries helps artists get well-deserved recognition and resources to excel in their career. For collectors, art prizes provide a platform for discussion on the incredible talent coming from Australia today.

Prepare your calendars, because 2021 is coming out in full force, making up for last year’s postponed and cancelled events as well as showcasing a new perspective on the place of art within Australian culture. Here are our picks of art prizes that promise to deliver and are well worth keeping an eye on over the coming year.

The Archibald Prize

First awarded in 1921, The Archibald Prize is oft-termed Australia’s favourite, and most prestigious, art award. Each year, trailblazers within Australian culture put paint to canvas for this portrait prize. The Archibald will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021; who knows what we can expect to mark the occasion? Click here to read more on the Bluethumb artists who became finalists last year.

Four-time finalist and Bluethumb veteran Kim Leutwyler is no stranger to the Archibald! Her entry Brian with pink, blue and yellow was her finalist piece for 2020.

Bluethumb Art Prize

What good is having a blog on art prizes if you can’t mention your own? While many art prizes last year were postponed or cancelled due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions, we sought to make our Bluethumb Art Prize 2020 the biggest and best yet. And sure enough, the hard work paid off – the prize was hosted completely online, at a time it was needed most. What’s more, our judging panel was composed of some of Australia’s best and most respected artists! The bar for this year’s prize has been set high, to say the least, but we’re already gearing up for the challenge.

After a tiring but worthwhile week! The Melbourne team celebrating last year’s art prize in front of Hubert’s winning piece.

As restrictions ease, we are in the final stages of planning our winners exhibition at 1 Denison, the new home of Nine and North Sydney’s new tallest building. Stay tuned for updates!

The winning piece, Mt Giles, MacDonnell Ranges – Circular Landscape #491a-18 by Hubert Pareroultja.

Bowness Photography Prize

For the nation’s photographers, the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize is one of Australia’s most important and reputable celebrations of contemporary photographic practice. Not only does it provide Australian artists the opportunity to exhibit at the Monash Gallery of Art, a leading public gallery; it illuminates the skill and originality of this young medium.

Caryatid #4 was Ali Choudhry’s finalist entry into the Bowness prize last year.

Photography prizes are an invaluable way of finding collectable photographers across the country. Click here to read our blog on our top 10 picks.

Doug Moran Portrait & Photographic Prize

Annual portrait award the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize is Australia’s richest, with a first prize of $150,000. The prize encourages artists to interpret the personality of their chosen subject through portraiture. Both well-known faces and unknown sitters are brought to life on canvas for this event.

Phoebe by Tara Gibbs was a finalist in the Doug Moran award as well as last year’s winning Portrait award in the Bluethumb Art Prize.

Following the success of the Portrait Prize, the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize was set up in 2007. The prize brings light to the talent of Australian contemporary photographers who excel in all forms of still, photo based artwork.

Glover Art Prize

John Glover was dubbed the father of Australian landscape painting during the 18th and 19th Century. In celebration of his legacy, the Glover Art Prize has become one of Australia’s most significant awards for landscape painting, open to artists from anywhere in the world. In this prize, landscape painting is defined broadly, with the aim of stimulating conversations about the meaning and possibilities expressed in the brief of the award.

Solilioquy – Tasmanian Highlands by Julie-anne Armstrong-Roper was a finalist in the 2012 Glover Prize.

Kilgour Art Prize

Putting the city of Newcastle on the map, the Kilgour Art Prize is annually orchestrated by Newcastle Art Gallery. First prize of $50,000 goes to the judges’ choice of figurative or portrait painting. Each year, the judging panel is made up of the art gallery’s director and two invited external judges. Blak Douglas, a judge in last year’s Bluethumb Art Prize, was the first Indigenous artist to win the Kilgour Prize in 2019.

Bluethumb finalist and first Indigenous artist to win the Kilgour, Blak Douglas. Credit: Sally Tsoutas

Mosman Art Prize

Founded in 1947 at a time when only a small handful of art prizes were in existence in Australia, the Mosman reflects all types of development within the Australian art scene since the time of its inauguration. In this way, the prize has always strived to offer contemporary and modern artists support and opportunities to exhibit their work.

The Mosman is Australia’s oldest local government art award, and has been won by an impressive number of well-known national artists, including Margaret Olley, Guy Warren, Grace Cossington Smith and Nicholas Harding, to name a few.

Bluethumb artist Gail McKenzie was a finalist in the 2018 Mosman Art Prize with the piece Waikato Landscape New Zealand.

Telstra NATSIAA

The Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) is Australia’s longest running and most respected Indigenous art awards that captures the attention of the nation. A variety of contemporary artworks represent the diverse Indigenous communities across the country. The NATSIAA award is the go-to for stories of country.

Jimmy Donegan has previously won the coveted Telstra award. Credit: The Advertiser

Portia Geach Memorial Award

An inspiring figure in the suffrage movement, Portia Geach was a talented artist who struggled with the arts as a male-dominated field. The prize is awarded to ‘the best portrait painted from life of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, or the Sciences by any female resident who was born in Australia or was British born or has become a naturalised Australian and whose place of domicile is Australia.’ It’s no surprise that the award is often referred to as the female Archibald!

Apparition #2 by Brenda Runnegar. 2019 Portia Geach finalist paintings for sale on Bluethumb.

Apparition #2 by twice Portia Geach finalist Brenda Runnegar was her 2019 entry to the prize.

Wynne & Sulman Art Prizes

The winners of the Archibald Prize are annually announced at the same time as the Wynne and Sulman Prize, making this a holy trinity of art prizes. The Wynne Prize is awarded to the best landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture, while the Sulman Prize is given to the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media. Bluethumb’s Hubert Pareroultja won the 2020 Wynne Prize for his incredible landscape, Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT).

Hubert Pareroultja with Mervyn and Marlene Rubuntja at last year’s Desert Mob. Photo by Rhett Hammerton.

Following the cancellations of many art prizes last year, we can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store for Australia’s art scene. Until the events stay rolling out, discover more award-winning artists in our Collectable Art section or click here for this week’s curation that’s full of statement pieces.

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