A young Melbourne artist was left heartbroken after her portrait of Pip Edwards for the prestigious Archibald Prize was essentially rejected by staff at P.E Nation because it made her look “much older beyond her years”.

Lauren Ferrier, 25, first approached Edwards over Instagram last September about the painting.

“I was a long time fan of hers, thought she was amazing – a single mum, a career woman,” Ferrier told PEDESTRIAN.TV. “And she pretty much got back to me straight away.”

Edwards told Ferrier that she would be honoured to sit for the painting. The pair ended up meeting in person in Melbourne around a month and a half later.

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Everything went so, so well, but I forgot to bring the form,” Ferrier said. 

The signed form, or the sitter’s statement, must be presented with the portrait to the Art Gallery of NSW, in line with the Archibald’s entry conditions. It proves that a subject sat for the artist in person, and without it, a painting cannot be entered.

Edwards told Ferrier to email her the form, which she did upon completing the portrait 10 months later.

According to emails, viewed by P.TV, P.E Nation’s global public relations manager, Louise Gaffikin, replied to Ferrier asking to see the portrait first instead.

“Pip just needs visibility on the image first,” Gaffikin wrote in an email dated 27 July, 2020.

Ferrier told Gaffikin that this wasn’t the usual practice between artist and sitter, but sent an image of the portrait to her anyway.

Gaffikin replied to Ferrier via email on 30 July, saying the portrait made Pip look “much older” than her age and she would not be signing the form.

“Thank you so much for sending through the imagery, I am sure you have been working hard on getting this together,” Gaffikin wrote.

“Which makes this email hard to send, however to be transparent and honest, we won’t be able to sign the consent form for the image to be put forward, having worked so closely with Pip over the past 3 years, I just know she will not align with the imagery.

“I have to be honest and say she looks much older beyond her years in this photo. I don’t think she could resonate with this painting and having it being put to the public.”

Gaffikin suggested that Ferrier come up with a “solution”, perhaps a portrait “with a more youthful feel.”

“Happy to send updated portrait imagery of Pip to reference,” she said.

Gaffikin also asked Ferrier to delete the portrait from her Instagram.

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Ferrier said the email was “heartbreaking” to read.

“I wouldn’t have even spoken to her [Edwards] again if I had it signed on the day,” she said. “It’s just the way it works. She didn’t have to approve it or disprove it.”

In response, Ferrier explained to Gaffikin that she only required the signature to prove that she met Edwards and to enter the Archibald. The form wasn’t a contract, or a sign of approval.

“I have put my life and soul into this painting for 10 months,” Ferrier replied. “It has also been seen by a few prominent Melbourne art figures who have complimented the likeness.

“I’m sure Pip wouldn’t want to be seen as a woman who would stop a young artist from pursuing their dreams.”

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Edwards eventually signed the sitter’s statement so Ferrier could enter the competition.

But Ferrier’s dealings with P.E Nation employees didn’t end there. When she decided to sell the portrait via Instagram, P.E Nation staff allegedly tried to stop the purchase going through.

A woman DM’d Ferrier on Instagram and said she was very keen to buy the painting.

“My friend just sent me this as she knows how much I love Pip,” the buyer, whom P.TV has chosen not to name, told Ferrier in screenshots seen by P.TV.

Ferrier sold the painting for $400 on 22 October, and sent it to the buyer while awaiting payment via PayPal.

However, after the buyer received the painting she DM’d Ferrier saying P.E Nation’s “managing director” had contacted her about it.

“My roommate has come home and seen the painting and sent a picture to her friend that works at P.E, thinking they would love this…” the buyer told Ferrier.

“However I have just received a very serious call from the managing director of P.E that it is illegal for me to buy this painting as Pip Edwards gave no authority for a portrait picture of herself to be sold, only to be put forward for the Archibald prize…”

The buyer claimed the P.E Nation employee wanted to involve their legal team and demanded she hand over the painting to them.

“So I can’t process any payment to you,” she told Ferrier. “Shall I give you the contact at P.E Nation?”

As it turned out, the buyer’s roommate was a friend of Gaffikin.

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“Pip’s authority ended when she agreed to be the subject of my painting,” Ferrier said in response.

After threatening to take things to the media, the buyer eventually released the payment to her.

The buyer told Ferrier she’d spoken to a P.E Nation employee and had been assured “Pip feels comforted the painting has been sold to someone loyal and who genuinely loves the brand.”

She added that Edwards was concerned someone may try “to make money on the painting” and didn’t want it to end up in the wrong hands.

Ferrier said the whole experience has been “very stressful”.

“I’m just sort of at a point where I’m so over it,” she told P.TV. “But the time when I thought I couldn’t enter the competition and stuff, it was pretty disappointing. And it still is really disappointing.”

“It’s fine if she [Edwards] didn’t like it, I don’t care that she doesn’t like it – that’s her own interpretation,” Ferrier said. “But to [try and] stop me from entering [the Archibald] at all – and to just let it sit there and gather dust, after [they] know how hard I worked on it, how much money I put into it – that was the worst part about it for me.”

In a statement issued to P.TV, Gaffikin denied preventing Ferrier from entering the competition.

“Pip did not prevent the painting from being shown at the Archibald, our understanding was the painting was submitted unfortunately however not chosen for final selection,” she said.

Image: Instagram / @lauren__ferrier, Instagram / @pipedwards