Hadley's raises landscape ante
Hobart's 175-year-old Hadley's Orient Hotel became the home in July of the world's richest landscape art prize thanks to the generosity of tourism entrepreneur Don Neil and a little flow-on MONA Effect.
Mr Neil, 77, initiated and funded the inaugural $100,000 Hadley’s Art Prize which attracted 380 entries and was won by Aboriginal artist Peter Mungkuri from South Australia.
The winning painting, Ngura Wiru (good country), tells a story about Mungkuri's birthplace in central Australia.
The painting will take its place in a permanent exhibition in the historic Murray Street hotel.
The acquisitive Hadley’s Art Prize has overtaken South Australia's Fleurieu Art Prize ($65,000) as the world’s most lucrative award for landscape painters.
Hadley's $100,000 winner's purse puts it on a par with Australia's previously richest art awards, the Archibald Prize for portraiture and the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.
It is well clear of Tasmania's previously richest landscape award, the John Glover Prize, which was increased from $40,000 to $50,000 in July.
Mr Neil first visited Hadley's as a 20-year-old travelling shoe salesman from country Victoria and bought the hotel more than 50 years later.
"Little did I know I'd come to live in Hobart later on and – far be it – did I think we'd end up buying Hadley's," he said.
"I've always had very fond memories of Hadley's and Hobart has been very good to our family, in all that time."
While he makes no claim to art expertise, Mr Neil was able to attract an expert judging panel, featuring Tasmanian artist and curator, Julie Gough, the National Gallery of Australia’s Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Roger Butler and Art Gallery of South Australia's Artistic Director, Lisa Slade.
Mr Neil said he had wanted to give something back to Tasmania and was inspired by millionaire philanthropist David Walsh and the transformative MONA Effect he has generated.
Mr Neil hopes the new prize will contribute to Hobart's burgeoning Arts scene and he is already thinking through the details of a second major award.
"I've been told [the Hadley's Prize] is a really dreadful investment by my financial advisers, and from a financial point of view they're probably right," he told the ABC.
"But you're also investing in Tasmanian tourism; you're investing in Tasmanian artists; you're investing in Tasmanian youth; who can come and view these wonderful works in Hobart, free.
"So as an investment, it's not the worst one. It's probably the best one."
Mr Neil has shown exceptionally sharp financial judgment over the years.
He acquired Hobart's disused and dilapidated wool store on Macquarie Street in the 1990s and completed the first stage of its transformation into Australia’s largest serviced apartment hotel in 1997.
The union superannuation fund, CBus, was a major equity partner and the project was considered within the industry to have been "thinly capitalised".
Nevertheless, The Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel turned out to be outstandingly profitable.
A second stage, adding 124 apartments, was completed in 2001 and the operation was soon winning awards, including a prestigious Qantas Australian Tourism Award in 2008 for best deluxe accommodation in the nation in the 4 to 4.5 star category.
This year, the hotel won the latest in series of gold medals at the Australian Tourism Awards and was named in the Australian Tourism Hall of Fame.
Mr Neil was able to fully repay CBus and assume 100 per cent ownership.
Occupancy, profit per room and return on investment at The Old Woolstore all substantially exceed industry standards.
Cash flow enabled Mr Neil to expand his Hobart property portfolio.
In 2013, he acquired Hadley's which had been in receivership for a year with about $5 million in unsecured debt.
An apartment accommodation complex built behind the original hotel was sold to the RACT in a separate deal.
Mr Neil initiated an investment program to restore the historic hotel to its colonial era grandeur and – inspired by the MONA owner – he began to think about a different kind of investment that required extensive works to create an art gallery without permanently affecting the hotel's heritage interior.
Judges chose 41 finalists from the large number of entries for the inaugural Hadley's Art Prize and said they had been impressed by the diversity of the paintings.
"They represented every possible perspective on landscape," judge Lisa Slade said.
She added that a $100,000 award amounted to a game changer for most artists.
Mr Neil is considering a second award inspired by the fact that Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, who led the first expedition to reach the South Pole, was staying at Hadley's in 1911 when he telegraphed news of his achievement from Hobart to Oslo.
"He stayed here and he's a legend in Scandinavia," Mr Neil said.
"Now, with the agreement of the Amundsen family, or society, we could run the Amundsen Prize next year and have it focused on [the] Antarctic and tie it in with the Mawson's Hut people and Hobart's general focus on Antarctica.
"It doesn't have to be at the same time as the Hadley's Art Prize and it'll be an international prize.
"So it's as good as a certainty that we're going to be doing that."
Mr Neil said he wanted to see Hadley's grow as an art venue – and he's in a hurry.
"At my age, you don't buy green bananas," he said.
Image courtesy of Jessica King & Hadley's Hotel
Footnote: Leading artist Philip Wolfhagen has produced a stunning landscape Transitory Light to win the $20,000 Lloyd Rees Arts Prize. “I don’t win prizes very often so I’m very chuffed and honoured,” Wolfhagen said. “I didn’t meet (Lloyd Rees) to say hello, but he did do lectures at the University of Tasmania when I was there in the 1980s. He was already in his 90s and he was an amazing man who I thought was wonderful, and this is a prize in his honour and memory, so I’m very pleased to have this award.” Painted with oil and beeswax on linen, Transitory Light depicts a twilight view of Norfolk Plains behind the artist’s Longford home. Ten years ago, Wolfhagen won the prestigious Wynne Prize.
1 August 2017, Edition 186