The Archibald is one of Australia’s most renowned art prizes and a highlight of Sydney’s cultural calendar.

But who was the man who gave his name to the competition? And what was his connection to Darling Point?

A journo by any other name

John Feltham Archibald was born in Geelong in 1856.

At school, he developed a love for literature and an ambition to write. At 14 he became apprenticed to a printer in Warrnambool who ran a number of local newspapers. During this time he decided to pursue journalism but was too shy to approach his own employer. Instead, he sent short snippets of writing to other local newspapers.

Archibald became so obsessed with the newspaper industry that he delivered morning papers, practised shorthand in the evenings and waited at the local post office each night for the last press telegrams.

French fascination

Determined to become editor of The Argus – and reported to be hugely over-confident – Archibald headed to Melbourne in 1874. However, after a few weeks of unemployment, he accepted the much-less prestigious post of parliamentary and court roundsman on The Daily Telegraph.

Disillusioned, and having had his work rejected by The Argus, he left journalism and took a job as a clerk with the Victorian Education Department.

In Melbourne, he lived at a boarding house run by a French couple. Once again his obsessive nature came to the fore, and Archibald became enamoured with all things French – so much so that he changed his name to Jules François Archibald (and years later claimed to have been born in France).

Travelling north

In 1878 Archibald lost his job and took another clerk’s position with an engineering company in Queensland.

But it wasn’t long before he landed in Sydney. Here he took another clerk’s job – this time in more familiar territory, with The Evening News. The position had come via one of the newspaper’s journalists, John Haynes.

Once working at the paper, the lure of journalism hooked him again and Archibald manoeuvred his way into a journalism role.

Birth of The Bulletin

Archibald and Haynes decided to join forces to start their own publication. Working long hours, Archibald researched, wrote and sub-edited articles while Haynes sold advertising and pursued publicity.

Thinking of selling?
Just researching the market?

They initially disagreed about the new magazine’s title. Haynes preferred The Tribune; Archibald suggested The Lone Hand. But in 1880 the first edition of what would become one of Australia’s longest-running magazines rolled off the presses with its now-famous title: The Bulletin.

The magazine boasted contributions from artists and writers such as Henry Lawson, Norman Lindsay, Banjo Patterson and Miles Franklin. While by today’s standards the magazine’s content was often sexist and racist, it provided a platform for the “bush ballad” and helped develop a uniquely Australian style of writing.

The road to the Archibald

Archibald travelled to England in 1883, where he met Rosa Frankenstein, who returned with him to Sydney. Rosa and Jules married in Sydney in 1885.

Now home, Archibald deepened his interest in Australia’s artistic life, becoming a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW and commissioning artist John Longstaff to paint Henry Lawson’s portrait.

But Archibald’s personal life was not happy. His only child died in infancy, and Rosa became an alcoholic. Despite this, in 1906 he built a family home, Roseville, at 101 Darling Point Road.

One year later, Archibald suffered a nervous breakdown and stepped down as editor of The Bulletin and, in 1914, he sold his interest in the magazine. But his interest in the arts remained, and when he died in 1919 he left £90,000 that was split between three projects: the building of a fountain in Hyde Park; the establishment of a benevolent fund for journalists; and the founding of an annual portraiture prize.

The Archibald Prize was first run in 1921, with the £400 prize won by Melbourne artist W.B. “Bill” McInnes. Thanks to compound interest, today’s prize money has grown to $100,000.

A true legacy

Archibald is just one of many fascinating residents to have lived in our area. His home, Roseville, was demolished in 1996 to make way for apartments, but his legacy lives on.

If you’re interested in finding out more about making Darling Point your home, contact my team today.

Photo credits: Wikipedia