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Whiteley AGNSW bequest valued at over $100 million

Nearly 2,000 artworks by the late Brett Whiteley are to be donated to the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW).

The Wendy and Arkie Whiteley Bequest is currently valued at over $100 million, and includes a wide range of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, collages and ceramics, many of which have never been on public display.

It will be one of the largest single donations in the AGNSW’s 151-year history and among the most valuable collections of artworks ever donated to an Australian public art museum.

The bequest pays tribute to Arkie Whiteley, the daughter of Brett Whiteley and his then-wife Wendy, who died in 2001 aged 37. With Arkie’s passing, Wendy Whiteley became the sole custodian of the collection and her former husband’s legacy.

‘It’s my great wish that the bequest provides incentives for people to have a go at a creative life,’ said Wendy Whiteley.

I want to encourage our young people and contemporary artists to think deeply and creatively, to be inspired by art history and to travel and see the world. Artists make people’s lives more interesting.

Wendy Whiteley

‘I hope the gift of the collection and archive provides more opportunities for the public to experience Brett’s art. The bequest is an extension of the benefits that the Brett Whiteley Studio offers. The Brett Whiteley Traveling Art Scholarship provided by Brett’s mother Beryl is also available for young artists. It was inspired by the Italian Government Traveling Art Scholarship Brett received at the age of 20. Brett’s work is an example for younger generations that with a strong desire, hard work and talent, a creative life can be achieved. It is still possible,’ she said.

Read: The Whiteley phenomenon – why a painter has impacted theatre, opera and film

The Wendy and Arkie Whiteley Bequest follows on from another $100 million donation to a cultural institution made recently by Lindsay Fox AC and Paula Fox AO, who in April announced their support of NGV Contemporary.

The artworks included in the Wendy and Arkie Whiteley Bequest are drawn from across the breadth of Brett Whiteley’s career and reflect the depth of his practice. Ownership of the collection is to be divided equally between the Art Gallery of NSW and the Brett Whiteley Foundation.

Arkie and Wendy Whiteley at the opening of the Brett Whiteley Retrospective at AGNSW in 1995. Photo: AGNSW.

Proceeds from the future sale of Wendy Whiteley’s private Lavender Bay residence, her home since 1970 and where Brett, Wendy and Arkie lived, are to be left to the Brett Whiteley Foundation.

Managed by a board of directors, including representation from the Art Gallery of NSW, the Brett Whiteley Foundation promotes and encourages knowledge and appreciation of the work of the late Brett Whiteley. Through the Brett Whiteley Studio, these funds will be directed towards the management and conservation of the collection, the staging of exhibitions – including in regional areas – the continuation of public and education programming and to support external projects.

The Art Gallery of NSW, which owns and manages the Brett Whiteley Studio, is also to receive the artist’s archive. To be held in its National Art Archive, which houses Australia’s largest collection of artist archives, the Brett Whiteley archive will be managed by Art Gallery archivists with the newly appointed senior curator of the Brett Whiteley Studio, Beatrice Gralton.

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said: ‘I thank Wendy Whiteley on behalf of the Art Gallery, and personally, for this extraordinary gift to the people of Sydney, New South Wales and Australia. Wendy has been an extremely generous Art Gallery benefactor over many years. She is a passionate collaborator and creator, as well as a great friend.

‘Her extraordinary generosity extends from her ongoing curating of the Whiteley collection – to which she has added many works over recent years, including from the 1960s, the abstract series and the bathroom series – to the staging of exhibitions, some of which we have been delighted to share with our regional gallery partners.

‘Like the Art Gallery, Wendy’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay that she has worked tirelessly to create and maintain for the public, looks out over Sydney Harbour, the subject of some of Brett’s most famous paintings. This gift is yet another example of what an outstanding citizen of our harbor city Wendy Whiteley is, and why she continues to be so admired and revered,’ Brand said.

Brett Whiteley was twice winner of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes – including scooping all three prizes in the same year, 1978 – and is best known for his vibrant, lyrical and sensual paintings of interiors, nudes and harbor scenes. He died in 1992.

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