Sydney’s annual Archibald Prize announcement is a spectacular spectacle. The crowd includes journalists, photographers, TV crews, as well as some of the artists and their friends, dealers, and other subjects.

We, who have seen this before, try to decipher the runes on the position of the podium where the announcement will be made.

It is right in front of David Griggs’s large portrait of Alexie Glas-Kantor. This means that this work was not included in the final group to be considered, as the cameras need a clear view of the winner when it is announced. Furniture cannot get in the way.

Sulman Prize winner for 2019, McLean Edwards. ‘The First Girl That Knocked On His Door’, oil on canvas 153 x 122.5cm, (c) by the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Mim Stirling

David Gonski is a very experienced showman and knows exactly how to make an announcement. He begins with the smaller prizes. Fiona Lowry judged the Sulman this year and awarded McLean Edwards the award for the First girl who knocked at his door. This was a very vulnerable expression of emotion.

He then slowly moved onto the Wynne and teased the journalists waiting with two lesser awards – the Trustees’ Watercolour Prize went to Robyn Sweeney for her country house, Perfection Uncertainty. The Roberts Family Prize is then awarded to NoNGgirrNGa Marawili for Pink Lightning. This is a vivid account of the lightning serpent that shoots fire in the air over her Baraltja land.

Sylvia Ken, who was also awarded the Wynne Prize with her sisters in 2016, is this year’s winner. Her subject is Seven Sisters, which is one of Aboriginal Australia’s great Songlines.

The artist. Sylvia Ken is the Wynne Prize winner for 2019. She won with ‘Seven Sisters,’ acrylic on linen. Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter

The room falls silent. Gonski thanked all 919 participants. This is a great way to remember the accomplishments of those 51 artists who were selected. He mentions how difficult the judging process was and praises Jude Rae’s portrait of Sarah Peirse in Patrick White’s A cheery Soul as Miss Docker. Rae’s painting captures the actor as he is on stage. It is good for the future if you don’t win the prize but are praised for your work.

Read more: Puckish Charm and no politicians: the 2019 Archibald Prize

Archibald Prize 2019 winner Tony Costa, ‘Lindy Lee,’ oil on canvas, 182.5 x 152 cm, © the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Felicity Jenkins

Gonski is right; there can only be one winner. Costa has been a finalist for the Archibald Prize four times, and therefore, he meets the criteria of recent Archibald winners.

This painting has a calmness that echoes the meditative nature of Lee’s work. Costa’s portrait is a reflection of both the subject’s faith and culture as well as his approach to art.

The bold lines that define shapes in the painting are a reference to old prints. Costa has used a similar style in his previous portraits.

Tony Costa will have a wonderful time as Archibald’s winner. But that fun and feasting will soon fade away with the next news cycle. The prize’s real impact will last for a lifetime.

Guy Warren, the 1985 winner, used his winnings to purchase a studio at Leichhardt. Unfortunately, with the declining value of Sydney’s real estate, today’s $100,000 prize money won’t get you very far. There will be more portrait commissions in the future, as well as successful exhibitions and a less precarious existence for the artist.