Skip to content

Interior view of the Brett Whiteley Studio

Studio history

1985

Building bought by Brett and Wendy Whiteley. Previously, it was an old T-shirt factory, with concrete floors, dusty brick walls and a large roller door onto Raper Street.

1987

Brett moved to the Studio when he and Wendy separated.

1988

Had the upstairs extended, which was made into his lounge, painting studio and bedroom. Had only one exhibition in the studio, titled Birds.

1993

New South Wales Government purchased the building and ten artworks.

1995

On 17 February the Studio was open to the public, as an art museum managed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Land & building history

Raper Street is located in the most Northern end of a land grant to Edward Hall Smith (Southern limit, the present Phillip Street). Smith had previously purchased adjoining land (to the NW) from John Palmer in 1814 and was the first owner/occupier farmer to live in Surry Hills (1814-21). In 1822, Smith sub-divided and sold most of his Surry Hills – Redfern land holdings. Part of that land was initially purchased by Joseph Underwood (1822), who sold to Frederick Unwin (1828), who sub-divided and sold. Thomas Walters purchased the lot that is now Crown, Rainford, Bourke and South of Davies in 1829. Walters operated a market garden until 1836 when he subdivided and put the land to auction. The sale failed and, in 1837, Waters re-subdivided, creating Victoria Street (now Davies), selling the North side in 1837 and the South side in 1840. This sale was at the height of land speculation in Sydney, but by 1842/43, the land boom was over and most of the land remained vacant.

Raper Street first appeared in the Sands Directory in 1873. It divides the land owned by a Mr. Raper. In 1873, a terrace of 6 houses was listed on the West side and, from the Land Titles Office map, there was an existing pair of houses facing Bourke Street on the East side. By 1880, a pair of terrace houses were built on the East side. In the mid 1880s, it is assumed the existing pair of houses were demolished as no record exists for residential occupation again until 1904. At this time, Mr. R. A. Andrews is recorded having “Stables” on this site (next to the terrace pair). The stables existed into the 1910s and, by 1916, Mr. Andrews was using the building as a “bedding manufacturer”, a business that continued until 1933.

In 1985, The Whiteleys bought the building, which had been operating as a T-shirt factory. The courtyard had been enclosed but the floors were concrete and the walls in a state of disrepair. Brett Whiteley initially covered the downstairs floor area with plywood and gyprocked the walls, which he then painted white to create a pristine and formal gallery space. He held a public exhibition in this space in 1988 called Birds. During the same year, he also added the upstairs studio and bedroom area and put in a kitchen. He lived and worked here from then on.

Very few changes have been made to the building since Brett Whiteley was in residence. The furniture, lighting, collections of memorabilia, postcards, photographs, objects etc., are all as he arranged them. The music that is played at the Studio during opening hours is from Brett’s collection.