Australia’s Richest Art Prize Put On Hiatus

Australia’s richest portrait prize has quietly disappeared.

The Archibald may be the country’s oldest and loudest, but at $150,000 – and $1,000 for each of the 30 annual finalists – the Doug Moran national portrait prize has been by far the most lucrative.

The prize was established in 1988, initially as a biannual event, and was then awarded every year from 2007, other than in 2020 due to Covid lockdowns. But the prize was not given out in 2023, though no announcement was made that it had been cancelled, and it will not reappear in 2024.

The organisation that established and wholly funds the prize is the philanthropic arm of the Moran Health Care Group, the aged care empire founded by Doug Moran and his wife, Greta, in the 1950s.

Peter Moran, the son of Doug Moran and managing director of the Moran Health Care Group, told Guardian Australia the prizes had been “put on hold”.

“We haven’t decided to discontinue [them] completely,” he said. “At this point, we’re just looking at the different options we have.”

The website of the Moran Arts Foundation states that “currently there are no future planned dates for the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize or Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize” – the latter, with a total prize pool of $100,000 was last awarded just before the pandemic struck at the end of 2019.

According to the most recent financial information lodged with the Australian Charities and Not-for profits Commission, the foundation’s liabilities outstripped its assets by more than $950,000 at the end of 2022. The foundation had received just $81,683 from its sole source of income, the Moran Health Care Group, compared with $524,551 in 2018.

Moran said the parent company was “in a good financial position” and it had always helped the foundation.

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“And I don’t see that changing, we support the foundation as and when it is needed,” he said.

Many of Australia’s most celebrated artists have won the portrait prize, including Ben Quilty and Tim Storrier, who have also won the Archibald prize, and Robert Hannaford, who has won the Archibald’s people’s choice award three times.

The Art Gallery of NSW will announce the winner of the Archibald’s packing room prize on 30 May, and the winner of the $100,000 prize on 7 June.

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