Stepping inside the stately atrium of the Hadley’s Orient Hotel in Hobart, it’s difficult to escape the impression you’ve stumbled into a bygone era.
Owner Don Neil wanders off to see about getting some food.
He comes back with an array of Victorian “sweeties”.
“Where’s the Amadeus?” he says to himself.
Mr Neil plucks a chocolate from the tray.
“John Cadbury made this one during the Victorian period [and] provided it to the aristocracy,” he says.
It’s clear the 77-year-old Mr Neil is a history buff.
That might be part of the reason he bought Hadley’s in the first place.
Built by convicts in 1834, its early landlords collected art and displayed it in the hotel.
Furthermore, in the 1920s and ’30s, Hadley’s hosted art exhibitions, primarily displaying the works of landscape painters.
The Art Society of Tasmania even utilised the hotel as a meeting place.
It was in this tradition that Mr Neil decided to reopen the Hadley’s art gallery.
From there, the idea of a landscape art prize began to manifest.
When the 90th anniversary of the hotel’s first art exhibition rolled around, the light-bulb went off in Mr Neil’s head.
The $100,000 Hadley’s Art Prize, in its inaugural year, is believed to be the most expensive landscape art prize in the world.
“The expectations this year are modest,” Mr Neil says.
“Next year, we’ll be expanding.
“By that time, we should have a reputation for actually doing what we said we were going to do.
“Which is important in life, really.”
The judging panel is an esteemed one, featuring Tasmanian artist-cum-curator Julie Gough, National Gallery of Australia’s Prints and Drawings senior curator Roger Butler and Art Gallery of South Australia artistic director Lisa Slade.
Hadley’s Art Prize curator Amy Jackett says her and Mr Neil want the prize to be “as inclusive as possible”.
That’s why it’s a national prize, with a focus on recognising indigenous artists.
“Australia is a country with a really rich tradition of landscape art,” Dr Jackett says.
So what better theme was there for the inaugural prize than history itself?
Indeed, Mr Neil’s own history is a colourful one, having started out as a travelling shoe salesman.
In the ‘60s, his boss sent him to Hobart, where Hadley’s was, at the time, “the only decent hotel”.
“I always loved coming back here,” Mr Neil says.
“Even when I got bigger in the shoe trade and had my own business, I didn’t deputise Hobart.”
And neither does he deputise Launceston, with Northern artist Penny Mason a finalist in this year’s prize.
The Launceston-based Ms Mason says she is “thrilled” to have made the shortlist for her watercolour work Tasmanian Summer - Pollen, Mist, Smoke, Hail, Embers.
“When I think about history, the element of time in my work is actually very deep time - into the future or into the past,” Ms Mason says.
She says she hasn’t even considered what she’d do with the prize money if she was to win.
“I’m not even going there,” Ms Mason says.
“I think that’s just too much to think about.”
The 2017 Hadley’s Art Prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Hobart on Friday night.
An exhibition will run from July 15 to August 25.