“In Australia, art prizes come and go. They may offer large sums of money and have glamorous marketing campaigns, but they still have limited life spans. The chief exceptions to the rule are the Archibald Prize, and the Mosman Art Prize.” — John McDonald, art critic, Mosman Art Prize adjudicator, 1989, 2004

The exhibition, Controversy & Acclaim examines the history of the Mosman Art Prize and the important contribution it has made to the visual arts in Australia since 1947. The Prize is the oldest continuous municipal painting prize in New South Wales, and indeed Australia. An acquisitive prize, the winning works form the core of the Mosman Art Collection. The significance of the Mosman Art Prize and its legacy, is that the winning paintings and resulting art collection present an overview of the defining influences and developments in Australian painting over the past 60 years.

The visual arts have formed a substantial component of Mosman’s cultural heritage since European settlement. The famous ‘artists’ camps’ at Balmoral and Sirius Cove in the late 19th century were a hive of creative activity for some of Australian’s most renowned artists, including Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Charles Condor and Julian Ashton. In the light of this history, local architect, artist and Mosman Council Alderman, Allan Gamble, proposed that Council establish an annual, acquisitive art prize as a means of developing Council’s art collection and fostering the visual arts within the community. Council approved the proposal and in 1947 the inaugural Mosman Art Prize was held, attracting 51 entrants, vying for a prize of 50 guineas. The judge was Lloyd Rees and the winner was Margaret Olley.

Given the paucity of opportunities for artists to exhibit their work in 1947, it is not surprising that participation in the Mosman Art Prize was readily embraced from its inception. From modest beginnings of 51 entries in 1947, the Prize grew rapidly over a short period to attract large numbers of artists, and equally large numbers of public visitors. Likewise, in its formative years the Prize gained much attention in the local and metropolitan press, which bestowed on it a prominent public profile. Today the Mosman Art Prize regularly attracts over 800 entries from across Australia, running a close second in status to the coveted Archibald Prize.

The enthusiasm with which the Mosman Art Prize was embraced by artists, the Council and the public following its introduction in 1947, led a number of other municipalities to follow suit and mount similar exhibitions. Within two decades there were 34 municipal art prizes in New South Wales alone. Many of the Prizes introduced in this period ceased to operate after periods of time. In other cases the character of the prizes has altered significantly over time.

Remarkably the Mosman Art Prize has essentially remained the same in both character and operation since its inception in 1947. Over the years it has been won by a number of significant Australian artists, including: Margaret Olley, Douglas Annand, Guy Warren, Francis Lymburner, Grace Cossington Smith, Weaver Hawkins, Roy Fluke, Frank Hinder, Elwyn Lynn, Margo Lewers, Nancy Borlase, Peter Laverty, Earle Backen, Ken Reinhard, Alan Oldfield, John Caldwell, Elisabeth Cummings, Jenny Sages, Nicholas Harding, Tim Johnson, Guan Wei, Lucy Culliton, Tom Carment, Noel McKenna, Adam Cullen and Dong Wang Fan.

The adjudicators of the Prize over the years makes an equally impressive list, including some of Australia’s most celebrated artists, curators, gallery directors and art critics: Lloyd Rees, Desiderous Orban, Margaret Preston, Weaver Hawkins, Douglas Annand, Mary Alice Evatt, Shay Docking, James Gleeson and John Olsen, Edmund Capon John McDonald and Deborah Edwards among many others.

The establishment of the Mosman Art Prize in 1947 has contributed to the suburb’s proud artistic heritage, and over the years, Allan Gamble’s objectives have been gradually realised. The Mosman Art Prize’s influence has been significant: it has pioneered local government support for the visual arts, created new opportunities for artists, incited artistic debate and encouraged the broader appreciation of the visual arts within the Australian public.

The exhibition was opened by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO Governor of New South Wale.

The exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully designed, substantial catalogue (112 pages, pictured right) featuring full colour artwork reproductions, and text which form a warts-and-all look at the Mosman Art Prize and the power, politics and machinations behind it.

Photo slideshow

Friday 11 December - Sunday 31 January