Art Awards and Arts Controversies

A Brief History: Drawing Competitions in New Zealand

The Molly Morpeth Canaday Art Award is held annually and is open to drawing and painting as part of the Summer Arts events in Whakatane. Following her death in 1971, Wellington-born artist Molly Morpeth’s husband, Frank H. Canaday provided extensive funds to assist the arts in New Zealand. The Molly Morpeth Canaday Trust in Whakatane is one of the few bequests remaining active. Past winners of the Award include Gary Freemantle and Peata Larkin. Molly Morpeth Canaday Art Award- www.mollymorpethcanaday.co.nz

The Cranleigh Barton Drawing Award was established in 1993 to recognise excellence in drawing and to raise its status within visual arts education and practice. The award was administered by Christchurch’s public art gallery with funds from the legacy of Canterbury watercolourist Cranleigh Barton (1890-1975). Although Barton had not stipulated that it take the form of a competition, the drawing award was in keeping with his wishes to acknowledge the role of drawing and its fundamental importance to the visual arts. Past winners have included Ruth Cleland, Lorraine Webb, Richard Lewer, Nigel Buxton, Michael Dell and Kristin Hollis. Cranleigh Barton Drawing Award - www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz

The National Drawing Award was established in 2006 and was an independent and generous award in its consideration of what drawing could be. The award was administered by contemporary art spaces, ARTSPACE, Auckland, The Physics Room, Christchurch and Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington. The winner in 2006 was Christina Read and in 2008, John Ward Knox. National Drawing Award - www.artspace.org.nz

How the 1943 Archibald Prize changed Australian art forever

Recognised as Australia’s most prestigious award in portrait painting, the Archibald Prize was established through a bequest from the estate of arts patron and editor of The Bulletin Jules François Archibald in 1921. By giving national attention to portrait painting, the award raised its status in the arts as it gained a reputation for academic realism.

The Archibald Prize requested that artists paint a portrait of a ‘distinguished’ man or woman but in 1943, both the subject and its treatment in portrait artist, William Dobell’s winning entry, ignited national debate. Dobell’s painting of friend and fellow artist Joshua Smith represented a more expressive treatment of its subject than any previous entry and two artists whose work had also been included in the award, complained about the judge’s decision.

Joseph Wolinski and Mary Edwards, claimed that Dobell’s portrait was ‘a distorted and caricatured form’ and therefore not a portrait. Supporters however, maintained that the painting was ‘a likeness or resemblance of the sitter and a work of art.’ Was Dobell’s painting a cartoon or a portrait and why would such a question interest the entire population of Australia?

The argument was really about the merits and meaning of modern art, verses the relevance (or irrelevance) of British and Victorian painting traditions in the mid-20th century in Australia. In a number of ways, it signaled Australia’s shift from a colonial and provincial country to a wider engagement with the world and international art movements.
In the middle of all the controversy, Dobell commented: ‘The real artist is striving to depict his subject’s character and to stress the caricature, but at least it is art which is alive.’
The accompanying court case eventually found in favour of Dobell: ‘although characterised by some startling exaggeration and distortion… [Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith] bore a strong degree of likeness to the subject and undoubtedly was a pictorial representation of him.’

Although please to have his portrait vindicated as a work of merit and skill, Dobell’s friendship with Smith was in ruin, and he looked back on the publicity and attention that the controversy generate with embarrassment and regret.