The late actor collaborated with artist Vincent Fantauzzo on the haunting painting
Credit: INCO/ Fame Pictures

A portrait of the late Heath Ledger is a contender for Australia’s esteemed Archibald Prize, one of the most prominent art prizes in the country. It was painted by the actor’s friend, Vincent Fantauzzo.

Simply titled “Heath,” the portrait features three versions of the actor – one haunted-looking rendition in the center of the canvas flanked by two whispering figures on either side. According to Fantauzzo, originally one of the side figures was to be screaming, but the artist changed his concept, worrying that it would dominate the central figure, which he intended to be the focus. “The whispering, the voices, the frustration or something comical – they [represent] different ways that we might be thinking in our own mind,” Fantauzzo told Australia’s Daily Telegraph.

Painted at Ledger’s family’s Perth home in December, Fantauzzo says the two men collaborated on the concept together. Ledger sat for the portrait, even signing a form to vouch for its authenticity and qualify the piece for an Archibald Prize. “He signed it in the wrong spot,” the artist remembered.

After their initial sessions, Ledger returned his work, and the painting sat in Fantauzzo’s Melbourne home, hanging on the wall until the artist heard the sad news of the actor’s death. “I just didn’t believe it,” he said. “When you paint someone, you meditate over them. I was painting Heath every day for 10 hours a day.”

The Archibald Prize will be announced on March 7. So far, 249 portraits have been entered in the contest.