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Observatory Hill (The Rocks)

Portia Geach Memorial Award 2019

  • This event finished on 15 September 2019

 2 August – 15 September 2019

The Portia Geach Memorial Award is Australia’s most prestigious art prize for portraiture by women artists.

The Award was established by the will of the late Florence Kate Geach in memory of her sister, Portia Geach. The non-acquisitive prize is awarded by the Trustee for the entry which is of the highest artistic merit, ‘…for the best portrait painted from life of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, or the Sciences by any female artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the close date for entries.’


The 2019 winner of the Portia Geach Memorial Award is Sally Robinson, with her self-portrait, ‘Body in a box’.

Highly commended artists were Pollyxenia Joannou for “Me, the Irishman and the chair and Victoria Reichelt for La Mere (after Elizabeth Nourse).

The People’s Choice Prize was given to Kylie Melinda Smith for her portrait of Eileen Kramer. Read story in The Senoir




Sunday afternoon @ the Gallery

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Sunday 18 August, 3pm Zuza Zochowski and Susan O’Doherty join us to discuss their works in the exhibition. Zuza has painted an intriguing self portrait and Susan has painted fellow artist Tenna McCarthy.

Sunday 25 August, 3pm Dee Smart and Caroline Zilinsky have both painted determined women –  Christa Hughes and Emily Hill – and will discuss the challenges of depicting these personalities in paint.

Sunday 8 September, 3pm Sally Robinson, winner of the 2019 Portia Geach Memorial Award and Sally Ryan, winner of the 2018 Holding Redlich People’s Choice Award from the Salon des Refusés, discuss their paintings in the exhibition.


The Portia Geach Memorial Award was established by the bequest of (Florence) Kate Geach to honour her sister, artist Portia Geach who died in October 1959. Born in Melbourne in 1873, Portia Geach studied design and painting at the National Gallery School, Melbourne from 1893 to 1896 winning a prize for her nude painting. In 1896 she won the first travelling scholarship awarded to an Australian to study at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where she remained for four years. She seemed destined for a successful artistic career.

Around 1900, she returned to Melbourne and began experimenting with her art. She eventually focused on figure studies, portraits and atmospheric landscapes. The family moved to Sydney around 1904 settling in Cremorne Point. She painted murals for buildings in New York in 1917, and in 1926 was exhibiting at the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She continued to travel widely, visiting New Guinea, Noumea, Tahiti and New Zealand and belonged to the Women’s Club, Sydney, and the Lyceum Club, Melbourne.

Disillusioned by the lack of support from the male dominated art world Portia directed her energies fighting for the rights of women in Australia and painting a banner for the suffrage movement in 1905. She founded and was president of the New South Wales Housewives’ Association. In 1928 she reorganised the association as the Housewives’ Progressive Association. For many years she was also president of the Federated Association of Australian Housewives. In the Sydney Morning Herald and over the radio she frequently expressed her views on such subjects as buying Empire goods, the use of preservatives in foodstuffs, the date-stamping of eggs, the marking of lamb and the high price of milk and bread. Armed with a strong personality, she campaigned against the closed front that she claimed had faced her when she had tried to exhibit her paintings.

Sometimes referred to as the female Archibald Prize, the Portia Geach Memorial Memorial Award is given annually “… for the best portraits painted from life of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters or the Sciences by any female artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the closing date for entries”. The Portia Geach Memorial Award seems an appropriate legacy and ensures that, over fifty years after her death, women artists in Australia are encouraged and supported in their endeavours.


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