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Julia Gutman wins Archibald Prize as founder’s fake Jewish identity is revealed

TJI Pick
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Published: 9 May 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

A young Jewish artist has won Australia’s most popular art prize; the fake Jewish backstory of John Feltham Archibald.

Twenty-nine-year-old Jewish Sydneysider Julia Gutman has won the Art Gallery of NSW's $100,000 Archibald Prize for a portrait of her friend and fellow artist Jessica Cerro (aka singer-songwriter Montaigne).

Gutman is the 11th woman to win the prestigious prize in its 102-year history, following in the footsteps of Nora Heysen, who in 1938 became the first woman to win (aged 27, remaining the youngest winner), and contemporary artists Del Kathryn Barton (who won twice, in 2008 and 2013) and Yvette Coppersmith (who is also Jewish, in 2018).

Gutman's win, based on a unanimous decision by the AGNSW's Board of Trustees (who judge the prize) caps a record-breaking year in which there were more women finalists than men.

Accepting the award at a ceremony on Friday, Gutman said it was "a very insane and very unfathomable honour. I've dreamt about it since I was 12 years old".

"I was really overwhelmed to even find out that I was selected [as a finalist] let alone that I've won the prize."

Gutman's practice, which she has described as "painting with fabric", often riffs on the iconic poses of women in art history. For example, her portrait of Cerro mimics the pose featured in Egon Schiele's 1917 painting Seated woman with bent knees

Gutman is the granddaughter of the late Jewish communal stalwart Margaret Gutman OAM, a former executive director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the niece of comedian Sandy Gutman, better known as Austen Tayshus.

Archibald’s fake Jewish back story

John Feltham Archibald, founding editor of the radically republican newspaper The Bulletin and the man who bequeathed the annual Archibald Prize for best portrait painting, has a little-known Jewish link.

Amateur historian and writer David Myton has revealed that as a young man in the late 1870s, Archibald adopted the false name Jules Francois, and claimed that he had been born in France, and that his mother was a French Jew.

In fact, Archibald was born in Kildare near Geelong, and both his parents were Irish Catholics.

He wooed Rosa Frankenstein, a Jewish woman he met in London and convinced to come to Australia. It is likely she believed he was Jewish until she arrived in Australia and discovered his real identity.

They were married in Sydney Presbyterian Church, but indications are that it was an unhappy union and Rosa has been largely ignored by Archibald’s biographers.   


Julia Gutman wins Archibald Prize for portrait of Montaigne (ABC)

The fake identity and the forgotten wife of the man behind the Archibald (SMH, paywall)

Image: Sydney-based artist Julia Gutman won this year’s Archibald Prize for her portrait, Head in the sky, feet on the ground. © the artist, image © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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