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Australian art

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Art, life and the other thing



Brett Whiteley

Australia, England

07 Apr 1939 - 15 Jun 1992


When Brett Whiteley and his family arrived back in Sydney permanently at the end of 1969 after a decade abroad, his reputation with illicit drugs preceded him spectacularly. Seven years later his controversial ‘Self-portrait in the studio’, which was awarded the Archibald Prize for 1976, was at once the image of an expansive life on the shores of Lavender Bay, and symbolic of a cage of serious heroin addiction within which Whiteley had found himself, and that would bring about his eventual demise.

Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2008

Two years on Whiteley entered another controversial self-portrait into the Archibald - ‘Art, life and the other thing’ - and it too made an immediate impact. That year he got the trifecta, awarded all three prizes including the Wynne and Sulman. However now, his self-portrait was a far more bold, almost grotesque confessional, an elongated image of himself referencing the infamous debate over William Dobell’s Archibald-winning portrait of Joshua Smith of 1943, flanked on one side by a simian beast howling with anguish as a ghostly hand delivers it a syringe, and on the other a photograph of the artist looking serenely normal.

Unlike ‘Self-portrait in the studio, critics were divided about ‘Art, life and the other thing’, perhaps because of its sheer sensationalism, and lack of subtlety of the earlier work. Almost too brutally honest, it seemed like the final flaring of a dying star. Many who were close to Whiteley, then aged thirty-nine, felt sure he would not survive beyond forty. However he did survive for another fourteen years, finally succumbing fatally to his addiction in a motel room at Thirroul on the south coast of New South Wales in 1992.

This painting won the Archibald Prize in 1978 and was acquired by the Gallery in 1998




Materials used

oil, photograph and mixed media on board


triptych: left panel 91.9 x 79.6 x 7.8 cm; centre panel 211.8 x 130.6 x 8.0 cm; right panel 31.2 x 31.2 x 7.3 cm :

a - left panel, 90.4 x 77.2 cm

b - centre panel, 230 x 122 cm

c - right panel, 31.1 x 31.1 cm

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. centre panel, black ink "brett Whiteley 78". Signed verso, black oil on masking tape "BRETT WHITELEY".


Purchased by the New South Wales State Government 1994, transferred to the Gallery 1998


Not on display

Accession number


Archibald Prize

Winner - 1978

Artist information

Brett Whiteley

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 13 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 25 publications


Barry Pearce et al., Brett Whiteley education pack, 'Self-Portraits and Other Intimacies', Sydney, 1995, (colour illus.). card no. 9 in education pack

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Archibald, Wynne & Sulman Prizes for 1978, Sydney, 1978, 5. Archibald Prize: 36

Margaret Clarke (Director), Red, black and Whiteley, North Ryde, 2000.

Peter Cochrane, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Artist was the $1m man', pg. 17, Sydney, 17 Jun 1992, 17 (illus.).

David Evans and Elizabeth Fortescue., Daily telegraph mirror, 'Whiteley: The fatal flaw', Sydney, 17 Jun 1992, (illus., detail).

Alec George, Look, 'Whiteley's 'inner paddock', pg. 26, Sydney, Jun 2014, 26.

Janet Hawley, Artists in conversation, 'Brett Whiteley', pg. 92-107, Richmond, 2012, 95.

Janet Hawley, Good Weekend Magazine, 'Brett Whiteley: the art of the warrior', pg. 16-26, Sydney, 17 Feb 1990, 22.

Janet Hawley, Good Weekend Magazine, 'Still life', pg. 18-24, Sydney, 02 Jul 1994, 21 (colour illus.), 22.

Anna Waldmann, The Archibald Prize: an illustrated history 1921-1981, Sydney, 1981, 235 (colour illus.).

Marianne Hulsbosch (Editor), Cambridge visual arts: stage 4, Cambridge, 2008, 122 (colour illus.).

Susan Hunt, The Archibald Prize 1921-1993, Sydney, 1993, cover (colour illus.), 8 (colour illus.).

Jane Hylton, William Dobell: portraits in context, 'Image of contention', pg. 10-20, Kent Town, 2003, 10.

Bruce James, Whiteley with words, 'Whiteley with words', pg.2-4, Sydney, 2000, 8.

John MacDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'On our selection: a moonlit mix', pg. 16-17, Sydney, 21 Feb 2009-22 Feb 2009, 17. NOTE: Review of 'Great Collections' exhibition.

John McPhee, Great collections, Sydney, 2008, 108 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce and Alec George, 9 Shades of Whiteley, Sydney, 2008, 3.

Barry Pearce, Brett Whiteley Art & Life, 'Persona and the painter', pg. 15-41, London, 1995, 38, 173 (colour illus.), 233. plate no. 114

Peter Ross, Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, 'Into the 1970s', pg. 63-87, Sydney, 1999, 78 (colour illus.), 136 (colour illus.).

Peter Ross, Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, ‘Chapter 4: Into the 1970s’, pg. 61-85, Sydney, 2005, 76 (colour illus.), 77, 146 (colour illus.).

Smith & Singer, Sotheby's Sydney: Important Australian Art (31 August 2010), Melbourne, 2010, 50. General reference to 1979 Robin Gibson exhibition

Inara Walden, Drugs: a social history, 'Intoxicated dreamers', 7-9, Glebe, 2003, 6 (colour illus.). Exhibition guide produced by the Justice & Police Museum for the exhibition 'Drugs: a social history', 25 October 2003 - 10 October 2003.

Anna Waldmann, Art and Australia (Vol. 20, No. 2), 'The Archibald prize', pg. 213-236, Sydney, Summer 1982, 235 (colour illus.).

Frank Walker, Herald Sun, 'What lies beneath 95% of gallery's art collection hidden in basement', pg. 18, Port Melbourne, 30 Dec 2007, 18 (colour illus., detail).

Margherita Zanoletti, Literature and aesthetics: the journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics [vol 17, no 2], 'Figures of speech/ Figure retoriche: Verbal and Visual in Brett Whiteley', pg. 192-208, Sydney, Dec 2007, 192, 198, 199 (illus.), 200-206.