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Daughter inspires artist's $150k payday

AAP logoAAP 25/10/2016 Georgie Moore

With a painting inspired by her daughter's school play, emerging artist Megan Seres has picked up Australia's richest art prize.

The Sydney-based artist's portrait of her 10-year-old, Scarlett as a Colonial Girl, won the Doug Moran National Portraiture Prize, worth $150,000, at Sydney's Juniper Hall on Wednesday.

It began when Scarlett was assigned the role of 11-year-old Mary Wade - a convict banished to 18th-century Australia after a highway robbery - in a school production.

"I tried to imagine what it would have been like for these young women ... to be in such a vast landscape that wasn't only beautiful but terrifying," Ms Meres told AAP.

"And that's what I tried to project - that combination of beauty, terror and a certain stillness."

Ms Meres, who only returned to painting last year after a hiatus, would "have loved to have sat down and had a cry" when her name was read out.

"I don't know that I'd use the word guilt but I am really shocked," she said.

"I'm an emerging artist and there are some absolutely magnificent works [around me]."

Scarlett as a Colonial Girl topped portraits of Australian surfer Mick Fanning, footballer Adam Goodes and conservative Senator Cory Bernardi.

"It is subtle, it's withheld, it's beautiful, it's ambiguous and we were overwhelmed by it," art historian and co-judge Doug Hall said.

Perth photographer Johannes Reinhart won the $50,000 Photographic Prize for his depiction of an underwater Fringe Festival performance, Mermaid Show.

He was a finalist last year and began hyperventilating after accepting the award.

"That's Michelle [Smith] singing. She is 'Tina Tuna' and she's underwater singing to the kids," Mr Reinhart said after his breathing returned to normal.

He'd photographed the show for three years running and was drawn to it because "it's not just in space no one can hear you scream. It's also underwater".

The Moran Art Prizes runs until February 5.

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