Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley


He was born on 7 April 1939, the son of Clem Whiteley, an entrepreneurial businessman, and his wife Beryl (née Martin). The family home at 18 Lucretia Avenue Longueville, was near the Lane Cove River where it feeds into Sydney Harbour, so he always had a sense of the beauty of where land meets water. Whiteley could always draw: he won his first art prize at the age of seven. When he was nine his parents sent him to boarding school at Scots College in Bathurst on the other side of the Blue Mountains. This was culturally an unusual decision for urban Australians. The young Whiteley was unhappy at school and did not flourish. He did however come to love the country around Bathurst and later in life returned to it as subject matter. His enduring friendships from these years included the artist Vernon Treweeke.
In 1956, the year after he saw an exhibition of Lloyd Rees paintings, Whiteley was awarded first prize in the Young Painters section at the Bathurst Show. He left school mid-year and began working in the art department of the Lintas Advertising Agency. He enrolled in classes at the Julian Ashton School and also joined the open air sketch club conducted by John Santry on the shores of Sydney Harbour. He came to know Lloyd Rees who frequented the group. Always gregarious, the young Whiteley came to know students at Sydney’s other main art school, East Sydney Technical College, including the beautiful Wendy Julius. On weekends he returned to near Bathurst to paint around the old mining towns of Hill End and Sofala. He also ventured south to coast around Thirroul and Wollongong. Landscape was the dominant popular genre for Australian artists at this time, but Whiteley also wanted to explore the human condition in art, and one of his paintings of this period was of people in an inner city soup kitchen.
In 1959 the artist and cartoonist William Pidgeon, who was a family friend, encouraged him to leave his job with Lintas and to concentrate on painting a body of work for a travelling scholarship to be awarded by the Italian Government. The judge was Russell Drysdale and Whiteley’w winning work, painted around Bathurst and Sofala, showed sensuous painterly qualities in the browns of the hills.
He arrived at Naples on 25 February 1960, and spent some months in Rome as well as travelling to Florence and London. In Paris he was reunited with Wendy Julius and together they returned to Florence and then Venice. Whiteley first exhibited with a commercial gallery in London in 1960, and at the end of the year moved to a house in Ladbroke Grove in London, where he was reunited with friends from Sydney, including Michael Johnson, and met other Australian expatriates, including Arthur Boyd.
The following year his work was included in the Survey of Recent Australian Painting at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and a painting from this was bought for the Tate Gallery.
In 1963 he married Wendy Julius, her body and her beauty became embedded into his subject matter. Whiteley’s successful London years were interspersed with extended visits to Europe and the USA. He drew the lithe movements of animals in the zoo, and made a memorable series of paintings and prints based on 10 Rillington Place and the activities of the psychotic murderer Christie.
In 1967 he was awarded a Harkness Foundation Scholarship and moved to the United States. The Whiteley family (daughter Arkie was born in 1964) stayed in a penthouse in the Hotel Chelsea. Janis Joplin was one of Arkie’s baby sitters, and when they left, a Brett Whiteley painting took pride of place, hanging behind the desk in the reception area. The intensity of this American experience, which coincided with a time of cultural and political turmoil, was reflected in changes in his art. Sandra McGrath has linked his art of this period to a self-identification with Bob Dylan, and Whiteley at this stage did begin to grow his hair in a Dylanesque mop. The excesses,contradictions and conflicts he felt were at the heart of the American experience were expressed in his large panel series, The American Dream (1969).
In July 1969 the Whiteley family left the USA for a simpler life in Fiji, where they were arrested for possessing marijuana and were deported to Australia, arriving in Sydney in November. They rented a house overlooking the Harbour in Walker Street Lavender Bay; later they bought it and modified the house for their purposes. Sydney at that time was on the cusp of change as the first generation of post-World War II babyboomers were not prepared to accept the wisdom of the past, but wanted new heroes. Whiteley’s international fame had preceded him, and he relished in the rock star status he was afforded in the popular media as well as in artistic circles. In Sydney, in the early 1970s, his excesses were seen as legitimate behaviour for a great artist.
From about 1970 he also enjoyed the creative milieu of the Yellow House, which Martin Sharp had caused to be established on the site of the old Terry Clune Galleries in MacLeay Street, Potts Point. Here Whiteley worked collaboratively with old friends, and made new ones. The Yellow House ended in about 1973 and in its last days the drug that easily supplanted all others was heroin. Whiteley’s major work of this time was the panel series of Alchemy, a work on the elements of dross andmagic that combined to make art. It was an intense painting, and some were uncomfortable with its intensity. Afterwards there were more relaxed works, as views from Lavender Bay became elements in a series of Matisse influenced odes to the beauty of Sydney Harbour. These paintings became such objects of lust to Australian art collectors that the possession of one is the leitmotif in Up For Grabs (2000), a play by David Williamson.
Whiteley was first awarded the Archibald Prize in 1976 for Self Portrait in the Studio. In the following years other self portraits tracked the changes in his body, perception and ability under the increasing influence of heroin. Wendy joined him for some years as an addict, but was eventually successful in withdrawing.
In 1985 he purchased an old T-Shirt factory in Surry Hills, which he converted into a dedicated studio. He moved to the studio alone in 1987, but some time afterwards began to share with Janice Spencer, a fellow addict he met at Narcotics Anonymous.
In 1989 Brett and Wendy Whiteley were divorced, but the acrimonious property dispute over the ownership of was still not settled at the time of his death from an overdose of methadone at a motel at Thirroul south of Sydney, on 15 June 1992.
After Whiteley’s death his will was successfully disputed by his daughter Arkie, who was awarded the bulk of his estate. The NSW government established the Brett Whiteley studio as an ongoing (albeit sanitised) record of his working life. To honour his memory, his mother, Beryl Whiteley, established the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship. As with the Brett Whiteley Studio this is administered by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Francis Bacon, Lloyd Rees


Whiteley's acclaim continued to grow throughout the seventies and eighties. In 1975 he was awarded the Sir William Angliss Memorial Art Prize. In 1976 he won his first Archibald Prize with Self-portrait in the studio and the Sir John Sulman Prize for Interior with Time Past (genre painting).

In 1977 he won the Wynne Prize for The Jacaranda Tree (On Sydney Harbour), and in 1978 became the only Australian artist ever to claim the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne art prizes – a unique treble.


Solo exhibitions by Brett Whiteley
Painting and gouaches
9 – 31 March
Matthiesen Gallery, London

Brett Whiteley
10 April – 10 May
Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney

Brett Whiteley
23 April – 23 May
Marlborough New London Gallery, London

Zoo series and Christie series
Marlborough New London Gallery, London

Recent works from London
31 January – 17 February
Bonython Art Gallery, Adelaide

Recent works from London
7 – 24 March
Kym Bonython’s Hungry Horse Art Gallery, Sydney

23 items by Brett Whiteley
27 September – 14 October
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Deya – Majorca
2 – 31 October
Marlborough New London Gallery, London

Brett Whiteley
5 February – 21 February
Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

Brett Whiteley: recent work
May – June
Marlbourough-Gerson Gallery, New York

Brett Whiteley
June – July
Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

Brett Whiteley
28 March – 19 April
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Portraits and other emergencies
29 February – 21 March
Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

Portraits and other emergencies
28 March – 21 April
Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

1 – 19 June
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Drawings 1960–73
6 – 30 January
Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

Lavender Bay series
19 November – 3 December
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Thirty-six looks at four sights on three themes: recent paintings, drawings and carvings
24 October – 15 November
Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney

Brett Whiteley: drawings
10 May – 14 June
Marlborough Gallery, New York

Recent interiors, still lifes, windowscapes, sculpture and ceramics
21 September – 5 October
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Brett Whiteley: prints and drawings
February – March
Susan Gillespie Galleries, Canberra

1 – 19 March
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Recent paintings and drawings
Fischer Fine Art Gallery, London

Brett Whiteley: prints
Robin Gibson Gallery

Paintings, drawings and three scrolls
12 – 25 July
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Birds and animals
10 April – 5 May
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Survey of prints and drawings 1967–80
Impressions Gallery, Melbourne

Portraits, crucifixions, (a paddock at) Oberon
26 April – 17 May
David Reid’s Gallery (by Robin Gibson), Sydney

Brett Whiteley: prints
14 July – 7 August
Greenhill Galleries, Perth

Graphics 1961–1981
20 July – 1 August
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Graphics 1961–1981
20 September – 4 October
Kalamunda Gallery of Man, Kalamunda WA

Recent nudes
3 – 31 October
Artist’s studio, Circular Quay, Sydney

Life and death
28 May – 18 June
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Another way of looking at Vincent Van Gogh
4 July – 21 August
The Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Some recent works: birds (11) the drought of 83 (7)
30 July – 17 August
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Brett Whiteley: recent graphics
July – August
Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane

Brett Whiteley: review of prints 1976–1983
13 November – 7 December
Chapman Gallery, Canberra

Brett Whiteley
12 – 28 July
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Brett Whiteley: graphics
Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle

Brett Whiteley: Van Gogh self portraits
27 January – 22 February
Greenhill Galleries, Perth

150 drawings from 1960–85
19 October – 6 November
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Brett Whiteley: the complete graphics (Christensen Fund)
14 April – 2 May
Broken Hill City Art Gallery, Broken Hill

Brett Whiteley: the complete graphics (Christensen Fund)
20 May – 26 June
Nolan Gallery, Canberra

5 – 19 July
Artist’s studio, Surry Hills, Sydney

Brett Whiteley: graphics
9 – 31 July
The Centre Gallery, Surfers Paradise

Recent paintings, drawings, photographs, ceramics and wood carvings from Byron Bay, Marrakesh, Japan, San Gimignano – Tuscany
1 March – 26 March
Australian Galleries, Sydney

Regard de Côté
1 March – 6 May
The Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Brett Whiteley 1958–89
14 April – 13 May
The Central West Orange Regional Gallery, Orange

Paris: the complete Regard de Côté series plus works from other visits
20 July – 8 August
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Showing all 20 artworks

  • Brett Whiteley

    Place De Victor Hugo

    Pen and Ink

    26.0 × 35.0 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Palm Tree 2

    screen print

    81.0 × 59.5 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Untitled (Abstract), C1961

    Oil and collage on cardboard

    73.0 × 52.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Watego Bay (Julian Rocks)

    Gouache, watercolour and collage on compressed card

    74.0 × 54.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Swinging Moonley III

    Screenprint, edition 37/70,

    77.0 × 60.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    The Back


    59.0 × 44.0 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Baudelaire's Bird, 1973

    Oil and feathers on canvas on board

    56.0 × 52.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Towards Sculpture 1


    84.0 × 60.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Palm Tree 2

    Screenprint on paper

    81.0 × 60.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Mother and Child

    Etching on paper

    60.5 × 45.0 cm


  • Brett Whiteley

    Preliminary Drawing for Magnolia with Money (Painting to Have Real Roll of Money)

    Pen, ink and collage on paper

    76.0 × 55.0 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Girl Riding a Bicycle

    Pencil on paper

    55.5 × 73.0 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Garden in Rome

    Coloured etching, aquatint and collage

    211.0 × 91.5 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Silver Eye

    Colour screenprint on paper

    76.0 × 74.5 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Back 2

    Colour lithograph

    97.0 × 63.0 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Hullo Cocky


    24.5 × 20.0 cm

  • Sale!

    Brett Whiteley

    Poem for a lover


    77.2 × 79.5 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Vincent (An Essay in Opposites)

    coloured thing, screen print and collage

    211.0 × 91.5 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Nude and Necklace

    Oil and mixed media on canvas on board

    80.5 × 106.0 cm

  • Brett Whiteley

    Juices of Love/ Page of Lovers

    Ink drawing

    101.6 × 71.0 cm