The Characters


Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley AO (7 April 1939 – 15 June 1992)  was an Australian artist. Born in Sydney, he grew up in Longueville and was educated in Sydney and Bathurst. As a child, he showed a talent for drawing, and was a self-taught artist until his late teens, when he took occasional drawing and sketching classes in Sydney. In 1960 he won a travelling art scholarship to paint in Italy for three months. The products of this sojourn earned him a place in an important exhibition in London later that year, where his painting Untitled Red was purchased by the legendary Tate Gallery. With his wife and muse, Wendy, he went on to live and work in Italy, England, Fiji, the United States and Australia. Whiteley created an immense body of work whose artistic and monetary value was recognised internationally, with paintings fetching as much as AUD $3.5 million (2007). In the late 1970s, Whiteley won Australia's most prestigious art prizes (the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman) multiple times, and in 1978 he won all three; the only time they have ever been won by the same person in one year. In the late 1980s his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction increased; he passed away in 1992. 

Wendy Whiteley.jpg

Wendy Whiteley

Wendy Susan Whiteley (nee Julius) OAM was born in Sydney in 1941. She is best known as the wife and muse of Brett Whiteley, and mother of their daughter, Arkie. Wendy was an artist herself, studying at East Sydney Technical College at the time when she was introduced to Brett. She appears in many of Brett's most famous and well-loved paintings and illustrations, and remains the custodian of his artistic legacy. Around their home in Lavender Bay, Wendy has rehabilitated a piece of public land, turning it into a tribute to Brett and Arkie and a magical "secret garden" for the whole community to enjoy. 

Arkie Whiteley

Arkie Deya Whiteley was born in London in 1964. She grew up in London, Sydney, New York and Fiji, travelling with her jetsetting parents. She later became an actress, appearing in movies including 'A Town Like Alice', 'Razorback', 'Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior', 'Gallowglass', 'Princess Caraboo', and 'The Last Musketeer'. She also appeared in the popular television series 'Prisoner' and in early episodes of 'A Country Practice'. When Brett passed away in 1992, Arkie negotiated with the NSW state government to purchase his studio so the Art Gallery of NSW could run it as a museum. In 2001, Arkie died from adrenal cancer, aged just 37. Her ashes - and her father's - are scattered at a private location in Wendy Whiteley's 'secret garden'.

Frannie Hopkirk

Frannie Hopkirk (nee Whiteley) was born in Sydney in 1937; she was two years and one week older than her brother, Brett. She was really named Wendy, but her father, Clem, called her "Frannie", short for "frangipanni". Even before Brett achieved artistic celebrity, Frannie was painted by artists such as William ('Weppy') Pidgeon, a family friend, for portraits entered in the Archibald Prize. At the same time as Brett left Sydney for Florence on his scholarship, Frannie married and moved to New Zealand, where four of her children were born. She pursued a career as a journalist, author and poet, publishing a memoir of life with Brett in 2013. Frannie always remained close to her brother, particularly during his troubled final years.

Beryl and Clem Whiteley

Beryl Martin (1917 - 2010) and Clem Whiteley (1908 -1963) met when she was 16 and he was 26. Beryl accompanied a friend to a job interview at the Liberty Theatre, where Clem was the day manager. Beryl got a job as an usherette that day but soon left the role to become engaged to Clem; they announced their betrothal at the glamorous Trocadero Movie Ball and married in 1936. Clem worked with cinemas such as the Orpheum and Hoyts; the couple associated with renowned artists and Sydney film-industry folk, often attending film premieres and hosting gracious social gatherings at their home in Longueville, Sydney. While Brett and Frannie attended boarding schools, the Whiteleys developed their business interests, travelling to the USA for five months to research business opportunities in outdoor furnishings. It was Brett's mother - who he lovingly called 'Sning' and later 'Ning' - who first took him to see a Lloyd Rees exhibition at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney in 1954; this was a strong inspiration for Brett's passion for art. The Whiteleys separated in 1957 and Beryl moved to London; this was a source of significant anguish for Brett. When he won his scholarship to Italy and later moved to London with Wendy (his wife), Beryl continued to support and encourage his artistic career. Clem passed away suddenly from a heart attack in 1963. Over the next 25 years Beryl lived in London and New York, returning to Australia in the '90s, and establishing the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 1999. For this service to the community, she was awarded an order of Australia medal in 2004. The scholarship continues to provide opportunities to young artists so they can benefit from the same helpful start to their careers as Brett Whiteley did.