Vanishing acts: The actress and the archibald prize

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In relation to the history of the actress as image, David Mayer asks: '[I] f the actress isn't seen upon the stage, how else - and where else - is she seen, identified, celebrated, memorialised, turned into an icon?' One way in which images of the actress make a striking, if little analysed, contribution to Australian public life is through the Archibald Prize, an annual award for portraiture managed by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). 'Australia's favourite art award', the Archibald receives saturation coverage in mainstream media, bringing acclaim and publicity not only to the winning artist but also to his or her subject. In the history of the Archibald, nine of the winning portraits have been of male actors, the earliest being John Longstaff's 1925 portrait of Russian actor Maurice Moscovitch, and the most recent Louise Hearman's 2016 picture of Barry Humphries. No actress has ever been the subject of the winning portrait. While portraits of actresses feature prominently among the finalists, the failure of such an image to win the main prize means that the actress remains effectively unrepresented in the history of the Archibald - a history that is narrated through the winners. As such, the actress 'vanishes' from a significant stretch of our cultural landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-149
Number of pages25
JournalAustralasian Drama Studies
Issue number75
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Actresses
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • Artists attitudes
  • portrains in motion pictures
  • stage presence

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