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Brett Whiteley - portrait 1
, 1975

by Greg Weight

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 50.4 cm x 40.4 cm, image: 45.2 cm x 30.8 cm)

Brett Whiteley AO (1939–1992), artist, displayed a brilliant talent for drawing as a Sydney schoolboy. After studying desultorily at art school he travelled to Europe on ascholarship. In London he excited art dealers and fell under the influence of painters such as Francis Bacon, of whom he later made a series of portraits. He won the international prize at the second Paris Biennale for Young Artists in 1961, and married his lovely muse, Wendy Julius, the following year. Through the 1960s he exhibited around the world as well as in Australia before the family returned to live in Lavender Bay on Sydney Harbour. He began the 1970s with gentle pictures of birds, moving on to massive portraits of the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud before taking two years to paint the gigantic Alchemy 1972–73. He then turned to series of paintings of waves, interiors, the harbour, and coastal landscapes. In 1976 he became the first artist to win the Archibald and Sulman prizes in the same year; having won only the Wynne in 1977, in 1978 he became the first artist to win the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes in the same year. He painted Patrick White while the author was working on his autobiography, Flaws in the Glass in 1979–80; thus two great portraits of White, painted and written, developed together. The glamorous Whiteleys’ marriage was fiery, and their inevitable separation added to the artist’s problems with substances and self-doubt. He died following an overdose of heroin in a motel in Thirroul, NSW in the winter of 1992.

Greg Weight (b. 1946) a Sydney- based photographer, opened his own studio in 1968, taking advertising and magazine photographs and working with the Australian Opera and the Australian Ballet. In 1970 he was invited to work in the consciously creative Yellow House with Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley, George Gittoes and Peter Kingston, photographing its artists, installations and activities and there mounting his first exhibition, a series of photographs of the Cronulla sand dunes. Weight photographed Whiteley throughout the 1970s. He remembers the artist as ‘vital and engaging, definitely one of the most imaginative and energetic individuals I have known’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2004.118