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Wendy Whiteley is giving an extraordinary $100 million cultural gift to NSW

Including nearly 2000 Brett Whiteley artworks, the promised bequest will be one of the largest single donations in the Art Gallery of NSW’s history

Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alannah Le Cross

Wendy Whiteley, the wife of one of Australia’s most prolific artists, the late Brett Whiteley, has just committed to making a massive cultural gift to the state of NSW. After her death, Ms Whiteley’s collection of nearly 2000 artworks by her late husband will be divided equally between the Art Gallery of NSW and the Brett Whiteley Foundation, and her Lavender Bay home will be sold. 

The promised Wendy and Arkie Whiteley Bequest, currently valued at over $100 million, will be one of the largest single donations in the Art Gallery’s 151-year history and among the most valuable collections of artworks donated to an Australian public art museum. 

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

Ms Whiteley said: “It's my great wish that the bequest provides incentives for people to have a go at a creative life. 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!” 

Brett Whiteley, 'The balcony 2', 1975Photograph: Supplied/AGNSW | Brett Whiteley, 'The balcony 2', 1975

The bequest’s artworks are drawn from across the breadth of Brett Whiteley’s celebrated career and reflect the depth of his practice. The bequest includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, collage and ceramics, many of which have never been on public display before. A number of the rarely shown ceramics are included in the current Brett Whiteley Studio exhibition, Brett Whiteley: Blue and White.

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. The Foundation promotes and encourages knowledge and appreciation of Brett Whiteley’s work. 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 house stands above the public garden which has been lovingly tended to by Wendy over the years. Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand explains: “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 harbour city Wendy Whiteley is, and why she continues to be so admired and revered.” 

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