‘This House Needs Another Family’: Wendy Whiteley’s Extraordinary $100 Million Gift to NSW

The bequest of Wendy and Arkie Whiteley honors in name and spirit the couple’s daughter, Arkie, who died of cancer in 2001, aged just 37, nine years after her father. With Arkie’s death in 2001, Wendy became the sole custodian of her former husband’s collection and legacy.

“This is definitely Brett’s legacy, but it’s also mine and my daughter’s because we made it happen,” Wendy said.

Wendy and Brett Whiteley were married for 32 years after meeting as teenagers, a couple who personified the bohemian spirit and became darlings of the global art scene.

One Walker Street became the home of the Whiteleys on their return to Sydney from New York, via Fiji. The couple’s view of Lavender Bay is famous in Brett Whiteley’s major works, including the Archibald Prize-winning Self portrait in the studio 1976, his Sir John Sulman Prize-winning Interior with time past 1976, and The Jacaranda Tree (on Sydney Harbour) 1977

The importance of the view and the surroundings of the house was recognized in 2018 with the State Heritage List, along with the house and the former studioand parts of a waterfront oasis that Wendy Whiteley has transformed from abandoned railroad land.

Proceeds from the future sale of the Lavender Bay home will contribute to the management and preservation of the collection, many of which are on loan to the Art Gallery of NSW. It also supports the management of the Surry Hills studio, exhibitions, regional tours, and public and educational programs.

Wendy Whiteley on the balcony of the listed home in Lavender Bay. Credit:Jessica Hromas

Brett Whiteley bought the Raper St warehouse in 1985 and converted it into a studio. After his death in 1992 it was bought by the NSW government and ownership passed to the Art Gallery.

As one of the few artist studios open to the Australian public, Wendy considers the Brett Whiteley Studio a major source of inspiration for young artists and a correction for her ex-husband’s rock star reputation. “That’s where his real life was,” she said.

The Art Gallery will be the repository for Whiteley’s archives, containing papers and letters important to the couple’s life and art practice, which Whiteley has been gradually bringing together for at least two years.


Whiteley said it was her wish that the bequest would inspire a creative life and give young artists more opportunities to experience Whiteley’s art.

“When we were very young, and that’s the ’50s we’re talking about, support for young artists was minimal,” she said.

“You would go to the NSW Art Gallery to get the most important support of all and that was inspiration and the feeling that it was all possible.”

Brett Whiteley studio president Samantha Meers said Wendy made an extremely generous donation to support a remarkable space.

“Not only is it an opportunity to showcase Brett’s work where much of it was made, it also gives visitors access to the wider art of making art, and educates emerging artists and the public about what can sometimes be a mysterious and lonely process.” to be. †

Gifts from great artists to the nation

  • John Kaldor’s donation of 260 works of contemporary art in 2008, then valued at $35 million, including works by Christo, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt, Gilbert & George, Richard Long, Carl Andre, and Andreas Gursky.
  • Tweed River Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah received a bequest of a million dollars in 2011 from Margaret Olley to build a replica of the beloved painter’s home studio, decorated with her own works.
  • In 1993, Paul Keating accepts The gift of Arthur and Yvonne Boyd to the Australian people of their property on the south coast of Bundanon, and a collection of works by the artist along with those by Sidney Nolan, John Perceval, Charles Blackman and others.

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