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With the 2018 Archibald Art Prize winner to be announced in a few days time, here’s excerpts from an article from 1952 about the man who inspired and gave his name to the prize.

J. F. Archibald Was A Living Legend – By CLAUDE McKAY

Soler and Heeler of Paragraphs

J. F. ARCHIBALD was a legend while he lived. He had spent years in retirement before he returned again to weekly journalism. But his name, of course, will ever be linked with the “Bulletin,” his brilliant editorship of which journal is historic in Australian letters.

The bush balladists, short story writers, and the fierce nationalism of the nineties onward were nurtured in the “Bulletin” of his day. The black-and-white school of artists he brought into being, Lindsay notably, following on the imported Phil May and Livingstone Hopkins—were world famous. Archibald was a grand companion, a conversationalist of sparkling wit and an overbrimming source of information of Bohemian Sydney of his time.

The Archibald Memorial in Hyde Park and the Archibald prize for portraiture perpetuate his name, but few Sydneyites could today recall J. F. Archibald himself.

Fewer still would know how gifted he was as a cook. He started on his Thursday luncheon – his guest day – on the Monday. His talent was with the casserole. The chicken would simmer in lettuce and butter and the ritual of add-ing herbs and wine and imprisoning juices was an office he reverently performed.

After a noble sherry we began the luncheon at 1:30. Food and wines and talk carried us on to coffee and a Napoleon brandy at or around 5.

You get what you give, he would say. Print pearls and they’ll shower you with jewels. Print tripe and you’ll get an avalanche of it!

ARCHIBALD was a sublime sub-editor. He described himself as a “soler and heeler of paragraphs.” When he found a gleam of intelligence he would set it in a shining paragraph. He exalted the anecdote and the ballad. A piece of verse he would pounce on, hide it away and polish it clandestinely for weeks. This he did with fragments Henry Lawson turned in.

Give me something a commercial traveller in a red cummerbund can recite at smoke nights, he would say.

For many years Archibald had a week-end cottage at Cronulla. There among his pots and pans he would entertain. Poets and artists, who as freelances ate for the most part at counter lunches, were regaled by Archie with turkey and champagne.  “I’d give them corn beef, potatoes and beer,” Archie told, adding with a chuckle, “A change of diet is good for everyone.”

The “J. F.” baptismal names of Archibald became Jules Francois with him in later life when he became an enthusiast in everything French. He was an anti-cleric, a republican, a devotee of French art and literature—all while still editing the “Bulletin.”

He had lived a bachelor. Sydney was his one love—the Sydney he made for himself, a city of writers and artists whose affection was warmly his.

He chose a French sculptor to design his memorial and Australian artists to record in portraiture the distinguished in art and letters for it was his idea that such should be the subjects of the Archibald Prize.

Sunday Herald (Sydney, NSW : 1949 – 1953), Sunday 23 November 1952, page 12

Norman Lindsay, in his book Bohemians of the Bulletin, said,

The Bulletin initiated an amazed discovery that Australia was ‘home’, and that was the anvil on which Archibald hammered out the rough substance of the national ego.

After suffering a nervous breakdown in 1907, Archibald gave up control of The Bulletin and, under a string of new editors, the paper became increasingly conservative.

Some recent and not so recent Archie winners…

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