Rachel Fieldhouse

Real Estate

“This house is my special place”: Wendy Whiteley promises $100 million gift to NSW

“This house is my special place”: Wendy Whiteley promises $100 million gift to NSW

Wendy Whiteley has made an “extraordinary” cultural gift to NSW, promising to sell her Lavender Bay home and bequeath her collection of her late husband Brett Whiteley’s artworks to the Art Gallery of NSW.

The collection is worth more than $100 million and will be among the largest single donations the gallery has received in its 151-year history according to director Michael Brand.

“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,” Brand said.

Almost 2000 artworks spanning Whiteley’s career will be left jointly to the gallery and the Brett Whitely Foundation.

As for Wendy’s home, which has lived in since 1969, it will not be preserved in public ownership.

The 81-year-old has instead instructed that it be sold upon her death, with the proceeds going into a trust to secure the future of the collection and the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills.

“It doesn’t amke any sense to turn [the house] into another museum,” Wendy told The Sydney Morning Herald. “It would be almost impossible to run it as a museum, having knowledge of what it costs to do this kind of thing. This house needs a family again. It would be lovely to think of a creative family but it would be enough if they loved it, and lived in it.

She told the publication that she hopes its future owners would “keep an eye on the garden” and hassle “whoever’s in charge” if it starts to fall into disrepair.

“I imagine I’m going to be here until, you know, they take me out in a coffin. Long ago I gave up taking anything for granted, like health or longevity,” she said.

“The house is my special place, along with the garden and the studio. All have expanded my opportunity to lead a creative life. That’s what I’d like for others through this bequest.”

The Wendy and Arkie Whiteley Bequest takes inspiration from the couple’s daughter, Arkie, who died just nine years after her father from cancer at the age of 37.

After Arkie’s passing in 2001, Wendy became the sole custodian of the collection and solely responsible for maintaining her husband’s legacy.

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

The couple’s home in Lavender Bay features some of Brett’s major works, including Archibald Prize-winning Self portrait in the studio 1976, his Sir John Prize-winning Interior with time past 1976, and The jacaranda tree (on Sydney Harbour) 1977.

Its significance was recognised in 2018 when it, along with the setting and former studio, were state heritage listed.

Image: Art Gallery of NSW

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