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mosman art prize

75 Years of the Mosman Art Prize

A new exhibition at Mosman Art Gallery celebrates 75 years of one of Australia’s most prestigious art awards.

The Mosman Art Prize is one of Australia’s foundational art prizes. From Margaret Olley to Salote Tawale: 75 Years of the Mosman Art Prize looks back at all the winning artworks and charts the story of Australian painting from first winner, Margaret Olley, to the most recent recipient Salote Tawale (2020).

In 1947, 51 artists submitted an entry to the first Mosman Art Prize, all vying to win the prize money of 50 guineas. Mosman Council Alderman Allan Gamble proposed this acquisitive art prize to Mosman Council with two clear purposes in mind: to grow the Mosman Art Collection and to support the visual arts in the community. Lloyd Rees was the judge for the inaugural prize, and he selected Margaret Olley’s painting, New England Landscape as the winner.

Of her win, Margaret Olley said:

“I never, ever, expected to win. It was after I had finished the Diploma at East Sydney Tech. I used to pick grapes and do theatre sets earning 2 shillings and 6 pence an hour for the Mercury Theatre and the Lux Radio Theatre to get by. Winning the Mosman Art Prize allowed me to stay on [living] in Sydney. Without it I would have had to go home to Murwillumbah. It gave me the confidence to keep doing what I was doing. The next year I had my first solo exhibition at the Macquarie Galleries. It was then that I had the revelation that ‘I am a painter’.”

mosman art prize
The most recent winner of the Mosman Art Prize was Salote Tawale with this work ‘Mangroves, 2020’. The competition was not held in 2021 due to the pandemic.

The importance of this win to Margaret Olley in the foundation of her career is significant to the continuation of the Prize – the support of artists and their practice. Since 1947, the prize has been won by scores of artists including Guy Warren, Grace Cossington Smith, Weaver Hawkins, Nancy Borlase, Lloyd Rees, Anthony Galbraith, Elisabeth Cummings, Tim Johnson, Guan Wei and Michael Zavros among many others. Past adjudicators also include notable Australian art figures such as Margaret Preston, John Olsen, Tim Storrier, Jenny Sages and Edmund Capon. The prize money now sits at $50,000 and attracts roughly 800 artists each year.

Importantly, each winning painting has been acquired and forms the core of the Mosman Art Collection. After nearly 50 years, the quality of this Collection helped cement the need for the Mosman Art Gallery to be formed, and now the Mosman Art Prize anchors their exhibition program each year.

Main Image: Margaret OlleyNew England Landscape, 1947. Oil on canvas. Winer of the Mosman Art Prize 1947, Mosman Art Collection. Image courtesy the artist and Mosman Art Gallery © the artist