Brett Whiteley discovered his passion for painting while he was still at high school in Bathurst. He left at 15, in 1956, and went to work as a self-taught commercial artist for an advertising agency in Sydney, while occasionally attending sketching clubs and life drawing classes at Julian Ashton Art School. Over the next three years he developed his artistic skills on his own, until leaving his advertising job in 1959 to create a body of work to enter into the Italian Government Travelling Arts Scholarship. He submitted four works - Abstract Autumn, Dixon Street, July, and Around Bathurst - the painting which won him the scholarship in 1960. He was 20.
Arriving in Naples in February 1960, Whiteley spent time in Rome and Florence, where he frequently visited the Uffizi Gallery to examine and revel in Renaissance artwork. On a brief visit to London to show his portfolio around, Whiteley was selected for a group exhibition by the McRoberts & Tunnard gallery. After his Italian scholarship finished in November 1960, Whiteley moved to London to seek opportunities for his new collection of paintings. Three were included in the Whitechapel Art Gallery's 'Survey of Recent Australian Painting', where the legendary Tate Gallery purchased his Untitled Red painting for their permanent collection. He soon had a solo exhibition at London's Matthieson Gallery and showings throughout Europe.
After travelling, working and networking in Europe and the USA throughout 1962-63, Whiteley's career really began to take off between ‘63 and '66. He had a number of international exhibitions, received various art prizes, and won a travel grant from the Stuyvesant Foundation. In 1967 he was awarded the Harkness Foundation Scholarship, which enabled him to move to New York City to create his next series of artworks, including the huge and notorious 'The American Dream' (1968-69).
Due to the profound importance of travel in the development of Whiteley's artistic voice and career, his mother Beryl bestowed an endowment that established the annual Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 1999. It’s open to Australian artists aged between 20 and 30, and is administered by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The scholarship is awarded to “A talented young artist/painter with an established body of work who is best able to demonstrate the use and benefit of the scholarship to further their art education in Europe”. The winner receives a cash endowment and a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Enquiries can be made at this link.