The Country’s Woman-Archibald Prize 2011


The Country’s Woman: Her Excellency, Ms Quentin Bryce AC.  Governor-General of Australia.  Barbara Tyson ©

The Yarra Valley is a buzz with the 2011 Archibald Prize, opening at Tarrawarra Museum of Art on Saturday 2nd July.  I can’t wait to see it.  In preparation, I’ve been to see one of the finalist’s- Barbara Tyson. I had the pleasure of meeting her at her studio in Hawthorn on Monday.  What a coup for any artist to have the opportunity to paint our present Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, live at Government House. As you can see from the final portrait, the opportunity wasn’t wasted.

Close examination of the portrait reveals three layers of raw French linen (you can see them clearly in the detail below). The edges of the canvas were deliberately, roughly torn. The portrait was built up beginning with the smallest top layer. See this youtube for a ‘fly on the wall’ view of the process. In fast forward, you can see the likeness coming to life and the inevitable work distractions the Governor-General managed with her trademark grace, during the sitting. The layers are important symbolically as Barbara wanted to suggest the three stages of life of our very polished, competent Governor-General. Quentin Bryce began life as a country girl in regional Queensland, the raw earthy paint in the outer layer, complete with dribbles, represents this.  While developing her career in the law she successfully brought up her family and honed her skills in every area of life (the second layer).

“The final top tier painted on location, portrays the polished woman we all know and admire today,’ says Tyson. ‘For four days I returned to capture those qualities. Having always painted with music for inspiration, it was serendipitous that with my first stroke, the sound of Debussy’s Clair de Lune filled the drawing room.’”  from the Art Gallery of NSW  website

As with all great portraits the setting is no accident.  Barbara was allowed to scope Government House for the best location.  She also had the final say over what Her Excellency wore.  The piano represents Quentin Bryce’s stability and strength while the casual clothes suggest her humanity.

Notice the exquisite rendering of The Country’s Woman’s hand… beautiful.


The collection of Barbara’s other work shows her favourite themes of movement and water.  Her work is steadily moving from realism to abstraction.  The paintings and details below form just a miniscule sample of this prolific artist. She is working hard to keep up with the relentless demand from the Gallery’s that represent her.  She draws inspiration from travels to New York and Europe.  The Suburban Gallery exhibited a body of work earlier this year with works painted in Rome, the west coast of Italy and Les Beaumes between Avignon and Aix en Provence.











This painting (above) was sprayed with a two pack ‘glass’ finish.

Hosier Lane, Melbourne…


New York…





Self Portrait (detail)  Barbara Tyson©

Barbara’s studio is a glorious light filled space (the roof is mostly windows) designed for work and play…  literally. At the other end of her studio from this photo (below) sits a piano. Barbara plays while looking for inspiration, energy or simply waiting for an area of paint to dry.  She managed some Bach and a little of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata while I was there….oh bliss oh joy!





There’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about a set of paint brushes for me.  I always find myself drawn to photograph them at every studio I visit.





Barbara Tyson is represented by Suburban Gallery and Manyung Gallery amongst others. Check out her website.

All paintings and details of paintings are Barbara Tyson ©.

The 2011 Archibald Prize exhibition will be showing at TWMA from 2nd July to 31st July. It is essential to book in advance…bookings are limited. Phone +61 (0)3 5957 3100.  To book on line go to their website.  If you’ve never been to the Yarra Valley, leave some time to enjoy the surroundings, they are truly spectacular!