OROTON X AGNSW
When Oroton recently joined forces with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, it was only fitting that Sophie Holt, the company’s creative director and avid art collector, immerse in the gallery’s celebratory exhibition, Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize.
Here, Holt shares her favourite portraits from the tour.
“Look at her coral lips, her peach cheeks and her eyes which are grey, all those colours together are just divine, so clever,” says Creative Director, Sophie Holt, who recently spent an afternoon touring the Archie 100: A Century Of The Archibald Prize in Sydney and came away buzzing from the artists’ palettes.
The exhibition marks the beginning of OROTON’s new long-term partnership with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an alliance that weaves together two iconic Australian narratives with a focus on heritage, conservation and philanthropy.
The exhibition also marks a significant milestone for the Gallery, a celebration of the Prize’s rich history and illuminating works, revealing secret stories that came to light through years of research into lost portraits – immersing in the series couldn’t be more captivating for the house’s Creative Director.
Violet McInnes Miss Sybil Craig 1941. McInnes Collection. © Estate of the artist
“[To] launch this partnership in line with Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize is very exciting,” Holt says. “I always take great inspiration from art, mostly built around colour and the balance of proportion in a palette, then also there’s texture, brushstrokes, or perhaps the simplicity and straightforwardness of an artist’s work and how their colours interplay.”
Holt is videoing in from her design studio, reflecting on her favourite portraits, almost micro-studying the palettes and imagining them into moodboards: one of her favourites, the woman with grey eyes, Miss Sybil Craig, painted by Violet McInnes in 1941, provides a kind of graphic counter point to her notes. Holt says “There’s a formality to the fashion of the time and how women dressed, you can see that here, and yet her black and white dress is so graphic, there’s a modernity to the way the artist has captured it and I love that.”
Mary Allen Portrait of Hilda Elliott 1925. Mildura Arts Centre Collection Hilda Elliott Bequest 1970. © Estate of the artist
Archie 100 Curator, Natalie Wilson, explains the exhibition’s historical impact: “Each portrait selected for Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize offers an exciting glimpse into a specific moment in time. Together, these works uncover changes in society in engaging ways, enabling people to experience how artistic styles and approaches to portraiture have changed over time.”
With all that in mind, the Creative Director is equally drawn to Mary Cecil Allen’s, Portrait of Hilda Elliott, painted in 1925. “I adore this painting for its colour balance and the way the artist worked light and shade back with neutrals. It’s along the lines of where our April colour palette was going – we had incorporated soft sage greens, greys and taupes, but then having seen this painting it suddenly felt right to include a hit of blue and yellow, it added something so beautiful and unexpected to the mix.”
Tempe Manning Self-portrait 1939. Art Gallery of New South Wales, acquired with the support of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 2021. © Estate of the artist
Also on Holt’s favourites list: Tempe Manning’s Self-portrait, painted in 1939 – “It’s colour saturation is just incredible, you almost fall into the painting when you see it up close” – along with Elisabeth Cummings’s work, the wonderfully moody painting, Jean Appleton, which won the Archibald in 1997.
“Zoom in here,” Holt says pointing to a photo she took of the work, “it’s so beautiful, but then when you zoom in again you see the colours are even more extraordinary. I just love her eye.”
Elisabeth Cummings Jean Appleton 1997. Private collection. © Elisabeth Cummings
The fact that Holt has a wonderful eye herself, charged by a deep love of colour and art, is something she attributes to both her grandmother Dame Zara Holt, and her mother: “Mum would always take me to visit galleries on the weekends, and at the time I don’t think it necessarily struck me how important that was,” Holt says.
“The walls of our house were filled with art and artefacts, she collected so many beautiful things, everything from modern art to framed butterflies and Amish quilts, so she had this incredible taste – I’m not nearly as clever as her but some of it did rub off. And so now I love to collect art, particularly modern art and portraiture, and I also love autobiographies for their stories and the way they engage you.”
The new partnership with the Art Gallery NSW certainly embodies OROTON’s ethos: art and colour play an integral role in the house’s collections and provide a springboard for the design team’s ideas. As is her signature, Holt stamps each line-up with a new artwork or motif, most recently for Spring-Summer 21 she turned to the nostalgia of Australian wildflowers, poppies and thistles as an emblem of our collective yearning for hope and optimism. Recently, Holt has engaged emerging artists to illustrate the house’s iconic silk scarfs and signature apparel.
As a result, OROTON is committed to supporting Australia’s art and culture in purposeful and mindful ways. Its partnership with the the Art Gallery will extend across the Gallery’s exhibition and philanthropic initiatives, including the Atelier Group, an educational program that engages young benefactors.
Company Owner Will Vicars echoes Holt’s sentiments: “It is important for our company to broaden and push outside the realm of the transactional retail space and build a stronger, sustainable, engaging and relevant brand for its customers. I strongly believe our partnership with the Art Gallery helps us move in this direction.”
WHAT TO WEAR:
Where can I view Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize?
The exhibition is currently online as an immersive 360 Virtual visit.
Where can I learn more about Archie 100?
While the Art Gallery of NSW’s doors are closed they are bringing you ways to learn, be inspired and get creative at home and online. With Archie at Home you can explore the faces, stories and voices of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2021 and Archie 100 exhibitions. Discover the rich history of one of Australia’s most prestigious and beloved art prizes and judge this year’s finalists for yourself. For more updates on what’s on at the Art Gallery of NSW, visit https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/
To learn more about this special exhibition, Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize visit https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/