Wednesday, April 06, 2016

£30,000 BP Portrait Award 2016 - The Shortlist

Three very impressive and very different paintings have been shortlisted for the £30,000 BP Portrait Award 2016. Each of them is guaranteed a prize. 

They are:
  • Girl in a Liberty Dress by Clara Drummond - a portrait of her friend and a fellow artist
  • Hugo by Benjamin Sullivan - a portrait of the poet Hugo Williams; 
  • Silence by Chinese artist Bo Wang - a portrait of his dying Grandmother.
Both Clara and Benjamin have been selected a number of times previously. In fact Benjamin has been labelled by me as a future BP Portrait Award winner a number of times! However Bo Wang is selected for the first time.

They're brilliant portraits - I love them all! I've also got the big high res images of them and after close inspection I'd find it very difficult to choose between them.  However if you read on, you will realise that past experience suggests one is a clear front -runner......

The portraits and artists are highlighted below

In terms of the competition as a whole:
  • The Entry: The shortlist of three was selected from 2,557 portraits by artists from 80 countries (the entry is limited to one portrait per artist). 
  • Selected Artists: More about who got selected for the exhibition tomorrow when I will link websites to the names of the artists whose portraits have been selected to be in the exhibition
  • The Best of the Rest: the closing date for my invitation to the "best of the rest" - of those not selected - is Friday.

Shortlisted artists

The BP Portrait Award is said to be the world’s most prestigious portrait painting competition - with total prize money of £60,000. 

Just being selected, never mind shortlisted or winning a prize is a great honour.
The prizes are as follows:
  • First Prize: £30,000 plus a commission worth £5,000 to paint a portrait for the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection, to be agreed between the Gallery and the artist. 
  • Second Prize: £10,000 
  • Third Prize: £8,000. 
  • The BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 will be awarded to the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. 
Who has won which prize will be announced at a special Evening Reception at the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on the evening of Tuesday 21 June 2016 - and prizes will be presented by athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Girl in a Liberty Dress by Clara Drummond

Clara Drummond is shortlisted for the first time.

Girl in a Liberty Dress
oil on board, 260 x 370 mm (10.2 x 14.5 inches)
copyright Clara Drummond
There's lots to like about this portrait.

The oil in this portrait is applied very thinly and sensitively almost in the style of a watercolour painting. - a technique which we sadly see far too little of. It reminds me very much of the way in which Jennifer McRae (a former BP prizewinner) works - it's all about the composition, tone and the draughtsmanship. There are also echoes in the pose of Jane Morris who inspired any number of portraits.

  • Age: 38 years old (b. 27 September 1977)
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: artist
  • Current home: Cambridgeshire (born in Edinburgh, Scotland)
  • Art education: Prince’s Drawing School. (She studied studied modern languages at Cambridge University)
  • Previous appearances in this award: previously selected five times for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition (2006, 2009, 2013 and 2014)
  • Previous notable portraits for this award: Iris Palmer for BP Portrait Award 2009, and her friend, actor Ben Whishaw (2005 exhibition).
  • Website
  • Title / Media:  Girl in a Liberty Dress (260 x 370 mm, oil on board)
  • Subject: Friend/artist Kirsty Buchanan (also painted for her exhibited works in the BP Portrait Award in 2013 and 2014)

The model Kirsty is a friend and fellow artist - and the subject of two previous works which have been selected for the BP Portrait Exhibition. On this occasion, both artists were working with the William Morris Society archive on an exhibition at the time and were looking at the hand drawn patterns for fabrics, wallpapers and tapestries by Jane Morris and May Morris, William Morris's wife and daughter. Hence the Liberty Print dress seemed appropriate for the context of the time.

Drummond says of Kirsty that
she is inspiring because she is always immersed in the ideas around whatever she is making at the time, history, nature, mythology and art all feed into her work, so when I am drawing or painting her it feels more like a collaboration than a portrait sitting.'

Hugo by Benjamin Sullivan

Benjamin Sullivan is shortlisted for the first time.

Note this is the ONLY one of the three paintings which demonstrates torso, head and hands - and I refer people back to last year's analysis of the paintings selected and my observation
all the portraits which have WON the BP Portrait Award since 2010 have all included hands
oil on canvas, 460 x 360 mm (18.1 x 14.1 inches)
copyright Benjamin Sullivan
Benjamin Sullivan always makes me think he is a very English portrait painter. This is a very recognisable "Benjamin Sullivan portrait" in terms of the person being painted, the setup and palette. There again this artist has never been flashy - his is a very clear style - it's very precise and very painterly at one and the same time.  One only has to look closely at his treatment of the face and hands to see this. Plus his portraits are always about the individual and who they are.

If he doesn't win this time, I'm very confident that he will win this Award at some point in the future. In my view he deserves to.

  • Age: 38 years old (b. 10th May 1977)
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Professional artist
  • Current home: Suffolk, England (born in Grimsby)
  • Art education: BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting from Edinburgh College of Art (graduated 2000)
  • Previous Prizes: In 2007 he won the Lynn Painter Stainers Prize
  • Other Distinctions: elected a member of the New English Art Club (2001) and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2003) - and was the youngest ever painter to be elected to both at the time
  • Previous appearances in this award: previously selected 12 times for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition (2002 and 2006-2015)
  • Website
  • Title: Hugo (460 x 360 mm, oil on canvas)
  • Subject: Hugo Williams - painted in the study of the poet’s Islington home

The artist had been an admirer of Williams’s poetry, especially his Billy’s Rain collection, and after being introduced to him at a private view in 2014 by a friend, the poet Stephen Romer, Williams agreed to sit for a portrait. Sittings were ‘accompanied by, very loud, Elvis and early Cajun music’. 

Besides very regular appearances in the BP Portrait Award exhibition, Sullivan's portrait drawings and paintings are seen regularly in the exhibitions of the New English Art Club and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

Notably he has also been the artist-in-residence at All Soul’s College, Oxford, and the Reform Club, Pall Mall.

Sullivan’s portrait of the cosmologist and astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.  I'm very confident that he will also be commissioned by the NPG to paint portraits of notable British individuals for years to come....

Silence by Bo Wang

Bo Wang is notable in that this is the first time he has been selected and he is only the second artist from China ever to be shortlisted for the First Prize.

tempera on board, 1000 x 1160 mm (39.3 x 45.6 inches)
copyright Bo Wang
This is the largest painting of the three and has undoubted and huge emotional content given the the gaze of his grandmother and the context of illness and dying. It's also painted in tempera and while this is not overly stylized, it is possible to see the tiny marks of the strokes of the tempera brush closeup.
  • Age: (b. 3rd December 1981)
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Occupation: a lecturer at Suzhou University of Science and Technology in Jiangsu
  • Current home: China
  • Art education: He studied at the Ilia Repin St Petersburg Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture
  • Previous appearances in this award: None
  • Website: None (if you know different please let me know)
  • Title/Media: Silence (100 x 116 mm, tempera on board)
  • Subject: his grandmother lying on the hospital bed a month before she died, while she was in the terminal stages of cancer and losing her ability to speak.
‘Sometimes she tilted her head and looked at me. There was too much emotion in her eyes to be expressed in words. I almost forgot about painting techniques or any specific style, just trying to use my brushes to communicate silently with my grandma. I can strongly feel the state of a dying life when I think of her eyes’.
Bo Wang says the work of Paul Gauguin is always in his mind when thinking of this portrait especially the artist’s enigmatically titled masterpiece – Where are we from? Who are we? Where shall we go?

He has exhibited at the National Art Museum of China, in Xinjiang, and the Xinjiang International Exhibition Centre.


The competition was judged from original paintings by:

Exhibition - BP Portrait Award 2016 & BP Travel Award 2015

The BP Portrait Award 2015 had 329,556 visitors.
This highly successful annual event aims to encourage artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. 
This year will be the 37th exhibition of The Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery. However the exhibition also tours and you will be able to see the shortlisted artists and the rest of the exhibition as follows:
  • National Portrait Gallery
    • 23 Jun – 4 Sep 2016, National Portrait Gallery, 
    • Admission FREE supported by BP (this is the 27th year of sponsorship by BP)
  • UK Tour:
    • 12 September – 13 November 2016 - Usher Gallery, Lincoln 
    • Late November 2016 - late March 2017Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
    • 8/9 April – 11 June 2017 New Walk Museum & Art Gallery , Leicester 

More about the BP Portrait Award

As always here is my archive of past blog posts about the BP Portrait Award going back to 2007. Next year I'll have been doing this for 10 years!

Note these include links to my videos of the exhibition. If you just want the videos then go to the BP Portrait and Travel Awards Playlist on my YouTube Channel

BP Portrait Award 2016

Call for Entries

BP Portrait Award 2015

BP Portrait Award 2014

BP Portrait Award 2013

BP Portrait Award 2012

BP Portrait Award 2011

BP Portrait Award 2010

BP Portrait Award 2009

BP Portrait Award 2008

BP Portrait Award 2007


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