$50,000 regional opportunity for portraiture

The biennial Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award is now calling for entries.
$50,000 regional opportunity for portraiture

Michael Zavros, Madonna and Child, oil on linen, 40 x 26.6cm. 2016 highly commended. Image supplied.

The Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award, one of Australia’s richest prizes for portraiture, is now calling for entries.

Administered biennially by the Bega Valley Regional Gallery, entries close at midnight on Friday 14 September, with finalists to be announced by Friday 28 September.

Read terms and condition here.


‘The award has actually been running for quite a long time. This year, the gallery is celebrating its 30 year anniversary and the prize has been going for that long under different names and guises,’ explained Iain Dawson, Bega Valley Regional Gallery Director.

First sponsored by Caltex and known as the Caltex Award, the award later became the John Balmain National Award for Portraits and Figure Drawing until local Bega artist Shirley Hannan decided to sponsor it in 2002.

‘She increased the prize budget by up to $15,000. Since then, and since her passing, we’ve increased the purse of the prize up to $50,000 as part of Hannan’s legacy,’ said Dawson.

While other major portrait prizes often celebrate abstraction, this one is different. When Hannan sponsored the prize she included a stipulation that the major prize of $50,000 is awarded to work that depicts its subjects accurately through realistic drawing and painting.

‘The patron, Shirley Hannan, was really well known for her own practice in realistic portraiture … It is probably considered more traditional, but there are a lot of artists out there who do paint in that hyper-realistic way. We get a broader entry than what you might see at the usual suspects like the Archibald or the Moran,’ said Dawson.

Whether you consider this realist bent traditionalist or otherwise, the award has proved popular with audiences.

‘It introduces artists’ work to a regional audience and also an audience who travel through regional areas. We have about 5,000 to 6,000 visitors to the exhibition every time we run it every two years,’ said Dawson.

‘We had the Archibald tour here last year and had 9,000 visitors which was fantastic. This is a local regional award that doesn’t have the same profile as the Archibald but still manages to draw a crowd. It is on the calendar for our regional audience to come and enjoy the show and it is something they really respond to.’

About the prizes

There are three non-acquisitive prizes up for grabs this year:

The Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award $50,000

The SHNPA will be awarded to the ‘Best portrait painting in any 2D medium (but excluding photography, digital media or bas relief) being a realistic depiction of a particular living person.’

People's Choice $3,000.

Visitors are invited to vote for their favourite portrait over the duration of the Award's exhibition at Bega Valley Regional Gallery. The winner of the People's Choice Award will be announced at the conclusion of the exhibition.

Mailroom Prize $500

The Mailroom prize will be selected by the Records staff of the Bega Valley Shire Council.

Visit gallery.begvalley.nsw.gov.au to find out more about the Shirley Hannah National Portrait Award.

Brooke Boland

Wednesday 11 April, 2018

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.