Sunday, December 03, 2023

Review: Semi Finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2023

This is about what happened at the Semi Finals of the Portrait Artist of the Year 2023 at the Battersea Arts centre - which took place last April and was broadcast on Sky Arts on the 29th November. It covers

  • The Semi Finalists - covered in Which PAOTY Semi Finalists will be in the PAOTY 2023 Final? - in which I reviewed all the artists and their two paintings to date.
  • The Heat Paintings - also covered in the above post
  • The Wild Card - an eighth painter
  • The Sitter setup and setting
  • Themes - my commentary
  • Decision-making 
  • The Finalists
All the artists in a semi circle around Emma Bunton

Plus it includes my commentary on what happened in the Semi Final. Just to note that 

  • never comment on those who do appalling paintings in the heat - but only reference themes which emerged during the programme.
  • HOWEVER as we get to the final stages of a very public art competition for a big money prize, I tend to become a tad more explicit in my commentary on how artists did - albeit I lean towards describing what happened as opposed to naming the artist.  
  • Bottom line the feedback becomes more direct the closer you get to the prize.

You can also read Gail Read's blog post PAOTY Semi Final - My internal monologue! which is very interesting.

The Semi Finalists

The Semi-Finalists comprised the seven heat winners and one wild card artist. They also included six women and two men!

Four semi-finalists - Wendy, Davide, Ed and Gail

Four more semi-finalists - Anna, Yvadney, Lorena and Sara

The Heat Winners

I listed and profiled all the heat winners in my previous post Portrait Artist of the Year - The Semi-Finalists - with my view of how well they would do. 

They are - in Episode order:
The Artists: 
back row: Anna, Gail, Davide and Ed
front row: Wendy, Sara Lorena and Yvadney

This is the image from last post which reviewed all self portraits and heat paintings by the artists who won the heats and were participating in the Semi Finals.

PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners
PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners

The Wild Card

The Judges chose to bring back a wild card artist
. They've done this before and it's often somebody who impressed in the heats, got shortlisted byt was up against a very good heat winner.

Kathleen Soriano explained their choice as being the artist who "stayed with them" and that she represented somebody who was doing something with her paint which nobody else was. They do like to have "range"

Self portrait and heat painting by Yvadney Davis

The wild card artist was Yvadney Davis (Instagram) - who painted in Heat 3.
Born in the early 80s, she lives in South London. She pursued a career in fashion after studying at Central Saint Martins. She returned to her love of painting during the pandemic and recently has developed her art from a lockdown hobby to an award winning practice. She celebrates Caribbean heritage and the Windrush generation and uses old wallpaper for her support. She created her self portrait submission with a broken wrist.

Sitter and Setting


The sitter was 47 year old Emma Bunton, an English singer, songwriter, actress, and media personality- better known to many of us who were around in the 90s as Baby Spice of the Spice Girls - the best selling girl group of all time.

She's now very much an entrepreneur in her own right and somebody who works with children's charities.

Emma Bunton with her "Baby Spice Buffalo Boots"

As a sitter, she is that well known "trap" for all portrait artists - the beautiful woman with flawless skin and great hair!

Tai predicted she would cause them all problems and she certainly did for more than half the painters!

Her "special object" was her very old Buffalo Boots which she was well known for wearing as a Spice Girl. Apparently they were responsible for a number of broken bones!

Her suit was also pretty challenging as was the amount of red an violet in the background.


The place where the filming took place is the large hall at Battersea Arts Centre i.e. the same as for the Heats minus the pie segments set. (I'm intrigued to see next week as to whether, post pandemic, they've got back into the National Portrait Gallery for the Final)

Instead for the semi finals, they 

  • dress up the back of the room with long red velvet curtains and purple lightboxes 
  • provide a large circular red carpet and 
  • all the easels in a semi-circle around the sitter. 

Plus all the heat paintings go on the back wall - and bear in mind at this stage that 

  • the artists have only just met one another and 
  • have not seen their self portraits or their heat paintings. 
So this is the point - as they walk in - when they get to see some of what the competition can do AND get overwhelmed by the size of the set and the distance from their easel to the sitter! It's jaw dropping even if you are just a spectator walking in.

The view of the dais and chair from the easels

Battersea Arts Centre: the Heat Paintings and the set-up for the Semi Finals

Note that artists don't get to choose where they go
. All their kit and particular requirements are set out in advance.

This is certainly the episode which is most likely to cause issues for the artists in terms of:
  • they're one of eight artists painting the same sitter in a large semi circle around the sitter - and not one of three painting a sitter in a segment
  • they are MUCH further away from the sitter than in the heat - and very much further than any normal portrait painter would be from a sitter in real life. Hence one of the reasons why I'd never ever be critical of anybody who references a photo or digital image during this episode.
  • there's a lot of scope for you to lose sight of the sitter - as the cameras and the team filming the episode tend to get in the way 
  • all the artists can see all the other artists' heat portrait paintings on the back wall of the hall as they come in. It's very easy to see people who are better than you (you think!).


Size and format

I was surprised at how few artists chose to "go up a gear" either in terms of size or scope of the painting.

Oddly, rather than trying to paint more of the sitter, most of the painters opted to paint a head and shoulders only.

The portrait paintings produced can be categorised as follows:
    • 5 x portrait, 
    • 2 x landscape, 
    • 1 x square
  • SIZE: - in general size increased
    • 1 x large
    • 3 x large medium
    • 2 x medium
    • 2 x small
  • SCOPE:
    • Full size or most of body (including hand) x 1
    • upper torso including hand(s) x 0
    • upper torso (no hands) x 1
    • head, shoulder and hand(s) x 0
    • head and shoulders (no hands) x 5
    • head x 1
The one artist who courageously tackled the whole figure (and well done for trying) produced a very good composition - BUT then spent 
  • much too little time on drawing in the figure and face accurately and 
  • far too much time and space and paint application on the background - which is NOT the focus on the portrait!
It's worth noting that the focus of most of your time and effort ALWAYS needs to be on the person and NEVER the background. You can edit as much as you like when it comes to the background - including changing its colour.

The need to see progression

A number of the artists recognised that "more of the same" won't deliver a finals place.
  Each artist needed to demonstrate that they can do better than they did in the heat.

However, not only did most fail to progress, some actually went backwards.

"Today has got to be more than a likeness"

So said Kathleen Soriano at the beginning of the episode.

She might have added, the minimum threshold for getting selected for the final SHOULD be that you have achieved a minimum of a likeness
Several of them have really struggled to get the likeness right Stephen Mangan
What was absolutely amazing was how many artists simply failed to get a likeness - as in COMPLETELY FAILED. I counted five of the seven portraits did not achieve a likeness. By which I mean,  if they had been hung in a gallery and people asked to suggest who the sitter is, I would argue very few would have come up with the right name.
They really needed to raise their game and some of them did and some of them didn't 

Nerves and apprehension - and the impact on the head

I felt there were some artists who delivered their own particular response to "rabbit in the headlights".

I wondered if they thought it was going to just be another version of the heats - with different people. If they did, thwy were were wrong. ALL but one were heat winners and the evidence of what they could do in four hours was on the back wall!

The ones who failed to deliver what they are capable of included:
  • artists who could not get going properly or quickly
  • artists who lacked ambition relative to the context
  • artists who had ambition but got distracted by aspects which really did not matter
  • artists who seemed to be painting somebody else.
The most obvious way to illustrate this was how many of them completely failed to record the very distinctive structure of Emma Bunton's head and face. She has a very distinctive jawline and very pronounced cheek bones plus wonderful skin and baby blue eyes.

All of this despite the fact, most had photographic images to work from as well as working from like. Realistically at the distance from the sitter that they are required to work, the features and detail of the face and hair come from a photograph.

One artist in particular - who was very slow to get started - just totally failed to deliver the basics of the structure of any head. The structure of the eye on the far side of the artist was just so wrong it made me and Kathleen wince!
The rest of the mistakes are unforgiveable at this level Kathleen Soriano

Scaling up - go big or go home

I felt Sara had a very good chance of being in the Final. However she went for "a very big head" (and we're no longer in "the big head" era) and a VERY tight crop.

Working on a larger support was a good idea. Scaling up the head was IMO less of a good idea. I think if she'd done what she accomplished but did it with shoulders and hands and a special object she would have been a shoe-in.

As Kate observed, her colouration and handling of colour is very good - but it needed more space to breathe. 

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Decision Making

The Sitters' Choice

Emma Bunton was very kind and found something nice - or neutral - to say about everybody's painting.

However I knew she was going to choose Wendy's painting - which she did. It was inevitable. She was the only person to deliver Emma's very distinctive facial structure and colouration. I'm very sure that portrait will be now hanging in her home!

Wendy Barrett with her semi-final portrait of Emma Bunton (4 hours)

Selection for the Final

The three artists selected for the Final are:
  • Wendy Barratt
  • Davide di Tarantino
  • Lorena Levi
You can see their portraits below.

Emma Bunton by Wendy Barrett

I had predicted Wendy would be selected. Once she started painting, I knew for definite that Wendy was going to get selected. She 
  • made LOTS of very thoughtful and sensible choices 
  • did not mess up her painting - and 
  • also achieved by far the best likeness from an angle that some artists find very challenging.
I particularly liked the way she portrayed the hair through colour and tonal shapes.
A nice honest bit of painting Tai-shan Shierenberg
Emma Bunton by Davide di Taranto 
(a very small painting)

The choice of Davide surprised me. I think he maybe fell into the Judge's (very odd) criteria of "we need something different". So would somebody like to explain to me WHY we need something different?

It was very clear that Kathleen lamented the fact he didn't produce another painting like his self portrait - and I rather think he's going forward in the hope that he will in the Final.

What he did do - as did the next painter - was INCLUDE THE SPECIAL OBJECT OF THE SITTER. (They were two of only three who did). I've included that in caps as I think those going forward in future series need to think a bit more carefully about how best to include "the special object".

Emma Buntion by Lorena Levi

Lorena Levi also surprised me as a choice. Overall the painting was interesting and good - so long as you didn't know that Emma Bunton was the model as the distortions she employed - which seem to be habitual - certainly did Emma absolutely no favours. There is no likeness due to the elongation when Emma's face is characterised by horizontals (eg jawline and cheekbones) rather than verticals.

However what Lorena did do is focus entirely on other aspects that mattered and she included
  • head and upper torso
  • pattern on the suit
  • the buffalo boots in outline
  • suggested the outlines of the lightboxes and the colouration behind - in a very simple and undistracting way
  • kept the focus on the head and face - although for me there was far too little space between the top of the head and the edge of the support.
So - my conclusion from this semi-final is that I'm going to be VERY, VERY surprised if Wendy does not win this series next Wednesday.

I think she's an excellent draughtsman when it comes to drawing in - she gets size, shapes, volumes and tonal patterns absolutely spot on - and yet at the same time she paints well and produces an interesting painting of itself.

Do you want to paint in a heat next year?

This is my post about the Call for Entries: Series 11 of Portrait Artist of the Year (next year). Essential reading for all those who want to do well - it's got links to all my past reviews and all the themes and tips identified in the last five years.

Plus if you want to find out more.....

Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year - REFERENCE

Previous Finals

Here are my posts about previous finals

Dates after the listed reviews below relate to the date of the first broadcast

This year's heats are:
Very oddly, the link to the artists and videos in the Heats does NOT have an episode for the videos of the paintings made in the Semi Final.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Which PAOTY Semi Finalists will be in the PAOTY 2023 Final?

Tonight is the semi-finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2023.

Can you predict who will get the three places in the Final - based on the self portrait submission and their heat painting?

PAOTY 2023: The self portrait and heat paintings by the seven Heat Winners

Check them out below. I've listed all the Heat Winners and included the images of the self portrait and heat painting below.

My prediction is the finalists will be

  • Gail Reid
  • Sara Reeeve; and 
  • Wendy Barratt
I say that mainly on the basis that:
  • they are all experienced portrait painters
  • they all produced very good heat portraits (judged against the seven as a whole)
  • they all seem to have the sort of temperament which means they mobilise quickly and complete within the time limit.
What's your prediction? (Answers please on my Making A Mark Facebook Page before 8pm!)

Heat 1 - Anna-Louise Loy

Anna-Louise Loy is a music student from Liverpool. Graduated this year from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with an Honours Degree in Music (as a a Tenor/Bass Trombonist). Her self portrait is part of a series of annual self portraits.

See Review: Episode 1 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 11 October 2023

Heat 2 - Gail Reid (Instagram | YouTube | X)

Gail Reid is a Bristol based full time artist. She writes a blog and share livestream and edited video demonstrations on YouTube and Instagram. On her YouTube channel she has a large collection of demos and other material. READ my blog post about her blog post about Preparing for Portrait Artist of the Year - Gail Reid shares her experience and tips. I think she might also be limbering up for LAOTY by drawing and painting her way around France on her family holiday this year

See Review: Episode 2 Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 18 October 2023

Heat 3 - Lorena Levi (Instagram)

Lorena Levi graduated Edinburgh University with an MA in Fine art 2021 where she won awarded the Astaire Prize at the end of her course. She was the overall winner of the 2022 Jackson’s Painting Prize. If the Judges knew those credentials, they'd be taking her seriously from the off... Her self portrait submission is below.

Heat 4 - Davide di Taranto (Instagram

Davide di Taranto is a miniature portraitist and fresco restorer born in Italy, but has lived in the UK since 2010 and currently lives in Southampton. After graduating at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (Academy of Fine Art) in Florence, he worked on restorations all over the world. His self-portrait can be seen up close - and was exhibited in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2018

Heat 5 - Sara Reeve (Instagram)

Sara Reeve is a Brighton-based painter who predominantly focuses on portraiture and also works as a wedding officiant. She is also a Tutor at Draw Brighton as a life drawing session leader and runs evening classes in Painting Portraits in Oils. She is also a proud @artcanorg member. Previously she worked for 12 years as a wedding photographer - so I'm guessing she knows a few things about how to make people look good.

See Review: Heat 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 15 November 2023

Heat 6 - Wendy Barratt (Instagram)

Wendy Barratt is a graphic designer and artist who lives in Worthing. She specialises in portraiture and the human figure and teaches art in her spare time.

See Review: Heat 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10) 22 November 2023

Heat 7 - Ed Lawrenson (Instagram

Ed Lawrenson is a professional full time artist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Studied at Winchester school of Art and the École Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris. Currently works as a Studio Manager for a contemporary artist. (I'm pretty sure that's Damien Hirst who has one of his Science (UK) Limited Studios in Stroud). He is also a painter working primarily in figurative oil painting, with an interest in the renaissance and Impressionism. His self portrait was intended to poke fun at how seriously he takes himself. He is is currently working on a large body of mythological painting; fusing elements from the Bible with contemporary science fiction and historical painting motifs.

see Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Review: Episode 7 of Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 10)

This was the last of the Heats. The next programme on Wednesday evening is the Semi-Finals so we maybe need to start thinking about who's going to make it to the Final!

However first of all we need to identify who is the Winner of Heat 7 and the will be the seventh and last participant in the Semi-Finals.

(Apologies to those of you who have been emailed two copies of this post. 
This is due to an error in the html link for the post)

Episode 7 Portrait Artist of the Year 

(series 10 / broadcast 1 November 2023)

Two sitters: Daryl McCormack on the left and Lenny Rush on the right

Episode 7: The Sitters

All the Sitters were young and are:
  • Lenny Rush - a British BAFTA-winning actor age 14 who is best known for comedy drama series Am I Being Unreasonable? and on the BBC One series Dodger. I think he's the first sitter with a disability - spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SEDC) - a rare condition that results in short stature and skeletal anomalies. He had just had an operation and hence was unable to mobilise - and his special object was the Segway he normally uses to get around.
  • Daryl McCormack - an Irish Actor, age 30, who featured in Peaky Blinders and was nominated for a BAFTA for his acting in the title role in the film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022). His special object was a wrap gift from Emma Thompson.
  • Joe Sugg - the oldest at age 31! He is an English YouTuber, vlogger and artist who started out as a thatcher and built a YouTube Channel called Thatcher Joe. In 2018 he was a finalist on the sixteenth series of Strictly Come Dancing. His special object was an early video camera from his Grandad who passed away last year.

Episode 7: The Artists

The artists in Episode 7 (of Series 10) broadcast on 22nd November are listed below in alphabetical order of the surname.

You can see all the profiles on the Sky Arts site plus speeded up videos of their paintings.

The Artists inbetween completing their heat paintings and delivery of Judges shortlist

The impression I got when I started looking at them online is that 
  • there were some VERY varied levels of experience 
  • with more younger, less experienced artists in this heat than hitherto.
It occurred to me after I wrote my Themes from this heat that the reason why most were younger might be because all the sitters were also very young.
  • Fiona Bell Currie - A semi-retired art teacher from Chichester. She trained as an art teacher at Goldsmiths' College 1972-76, loved teaching in schools and art college then developed a popular course for adults who'd not drawn since childhood. She paints full time in Chichester. You can see her finished version of her portrait of Joe Sugg on her website. 
I was new to portraiture back in April but have devoted some time to studying the form and developing a passion with some new techniques, though my first love will remain landscape painting. (from Fiona's about page on her website)
  • Robin Danely (Instagram | Facebook) - a full time artist born and raised in Michigan, USA. She studied painting and printmaking in California, and currently lives and works in Oxford, UK. 
  • Teoni Hinds - a London based Fine Artist who focuses on romanticising the everyday through figurative art. She is an art graduate who is a Studio Assistant to a graffiti artist and designer.
  • Carina Johnson (Instagram) - a young art student who is passionate about art and likes working with a ball point pen. She swopped from watercolour and coloured pencil (for her submission self portrait) to biro for the heat.
  • Jonny Kemp (Instagram) - a self-taught portrait artist, working in fine liner pen or oil paint, living in South London. He studied English at university and worked as an English teacher for ten years. In 2023, he left teaching to pursue a career as an artist. He completed a project  to draw and interview 40 local independent business owners and volunteers to celebrate his south London district. He is a member of the Croydon Art Society, the SE20 art group, and a founding member of the South Norwood Creator’s Collective. You can see his self portrait and his media on his PAOTY Artist page.
  • Ed Lawrenson (Instagram) - a professional full time artist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Studied at Winchester school of Art and the École Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris. Currently works as a Studio Manager for a contemporary artist. (I'm pretty sure that's Damien Hirst who has one of his Science (UK) Limited Studios in Stroud). He is also a painter working primarily in figurative oil painting, with an interest in the renaissance and Impressionism. His self portrait was intended to poke fun at how seriously he takes himself. He is  is currently working on a large body of mythological painting; fusing elements from the Bible with contemporary science fiction and historical painting motifs.
  • Katie Meaney (Instagram) - A Construction Project Manager living and working in London. She is a colourist who likes to work from life and also seems to like painting a lot of landscapes.
  • Lewis Simpson (Instagram) - a freelance photographer based in Harrow. This is his website page about being a contestant in one of this year's heats of PAOTY.
The show itself was a wild experience and nothing prepares you for that kind of pressure, 4 hours to complete any piece of work is a stressful challenge. Practice portraits took over my life leading up to filming
  • Jed Timms (Instagram) - a figurative artist and musician based in Liverpool and working predominantly in oil. He describes himself as a creator of portraits and other decorative nonsense. He usually works from photo references and specialises in portraits of celebrities for sale.

Self Portrait Submissions

Size, content and calibre of submissions

I've analysed all the portraits - of artists looking at themselves - and allocated them to the various categories below.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

WHY enter The Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery (London)

In this post I'm offering information and advice for those wanting to enter The Portrait Award Competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London (formerly known as the BP Portrait Award).

My audience for this post are all those
  • who have entered in the past and want to have another go - but may have forgotten all the things it's wise to remember
  • who have heard about this Portrait Award and would like to enter for the first time - and need a few tips to help their entry on its way 

What I'm going to say below is based in part on what has gone before.

See also my previous post NEW! Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 REPLACES BP Portrait Award

The Most Successful Portrait Award Artist ever!
Ben Sullivan with Ginnie and 15 month old Edie (at her second BP Awards ceremony!)
Breech! - Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017
Oil on canvas, 820 x 400mm

The Portrait Award - in the context of other Portrait Competitions

The Portrait Award has been around since 1980 

Its reputation has grown over time and it is now generally recognised as one of the most prestigious portrait awards in the world

What makes it different?

An International Competition

Unlike other leading portrait competitions - such as the Outwin Bouchever Portrait Competition in the USA and the Archibald Prize for Portraiture in Australia - which are limited to artists in the country that hosts the award, the Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery is 

  • one of a very few open to International Artists and 
  • very successful in attracting a huge number of entries by international artists. 

Indeed, in the last 40+ years, artists from over 100 countries have submitted over c.40,000 entries to this Portrait Award - and some of the winners have come from countries as diverse as the USA (2012), Germany (2014), Israel (2015) and Thailand/France (2020).  Prior to 2012, winners were almost always from the UK 

The number of international artists seemed to increase a lot after I started writing about the competition on an annual basis - and showing images of the portraits as photos and videos!

See section near the end of this post with information and tips for all International Artists.

See past blog posts about this award listed at the end - which contain images of portrait paintings selected for past exhibitions.

It's NOT the Portrait Competition with the top prize

There have certainly been Portrait Competitions in the past where the prize to the winner exceeds what is on offer at the National Portrait Gallery.

For example, as I write, the top prize in The 26th International annual competition for portraiture and figurative art run by the Portrait Society of America has a top prize of $50,000 (more than £40,000).

It does however offer 

  • a very generous sum of £35,000 to the winner 
  • PLUS the chance to add a prestigious collectoon to their CVs - by being offered the opportunity to contribute a portrait to the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. 
This is not the portrait which wins but rather another portrait of somebody who is a significant person in the UK - and is commissioned by the NPG at some stage after the win.  

It should also be noted that ONLY 60% of artists have been awarded a commission in addition to the cash prize. This can be for a variety of reasons - but an obvious one is that an artist needs to be suitable for the person whose portrait needs painting - and sometimes need to be in the same country at a time convenient to the person being painted.

Portrait Award Winners

Oddly, the artists who have won the Portrait Award and have then gone on to complete a commission for a portrait are NOT currently listed on the NPG website

They are however listed on this blog in a post I created in January (because I kept being asked about what's happening to the award!)
TIP: READ Winners of the National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Award + Commissions

A number of the past winners have gone on to become well known contemporary artists eg. Humphrey Ocean(1982); Alison Watt (1987), Tai-Shan Schierenberg (1989), Stuart Pearson Wright (2001) - who subsequently did a portrait of JK Rowling for the NPG,  Paul Emsley (2007) - who subsequently painted the Duchess of Cambridge for the NPG, Miriam Escofet (2018) who has subsequently painted a number of eminent people.


Its sponsors since 1980 have included

  • 1980-1989 - Imperial Tobacco / John Player (a tobacco company / brand name)
  • 1990-2020 - BP (an oil company)
  • from 2023 - Herbert Smith Freehills (a legal firm whose clients include BP and the National Portrait Gallery.

Age Limit

When sponsored by John Player and subsequently through the early years of the BP sponsorship, The Portrait Award was known for being a competition limited to those under the age of 40. 

However in 2007 as I was beginning to write about The Portrait Award (see all my blog posts at the end of this post), the competition was opened up to all international artists aged 18 and over (prior to entry) - and the range of experience and styles increased exponentially.

TIPS about entering The Portrait Award

My past Call for Entries Posts (see the end) contain LOTS of tips about entering.

Here's a round-up of aspects worth thinking about

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

NEW! Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 REPLACES BP Portrait Award

Periodically people ask me about what's happening now the BP Portrait Award is no more. Now I can tell you - and this is what this post is about.

The National Portrait Gallery recently announced the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024.

Key Essentials

The name

To all intents and purposes this is the John Player (1980-1989) / BP Portrait Award (1990-2020) with a new sponsor and a new name.

My first reaction was "what a mouthful!". I wonder how long before it's known as the HSF Portrait Award? Or maybe just The Portrait Award (sponsored by.....)

The rule with names is 
  • If they are too long they don't get used. 
  • If they are very short and roll off the tongue easily they're always used and may become the way the whatever becomes known.

My second that it's essentially the BP - but now sponsored by BP's by ​​international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. (see National Portrait Gallery criticised over choice of sponsor to replace BP). 

The one thing this competition did not need is the sort of long complicated name much loved by law firms!

However, and more importantly, it's worth noting that Herbert Smith Freehills is undertaking the role of re-opening sponsor after the National Portrait Gallery re-opened its doors after completing a three-year renovation programme. So I'm guessing getting the title for The Portrait Award is maybe part of a bigger deal.....

The Portrait Award

Anyway, enough of that. 

The Portrait Award is back and here's the key details followed tomorrow by a more detailed post tomorrow. (i.e. anybody who thinks I'm writing that name out in full every time has got another think coming!)

So the key essentials are as follows

  • The Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award Prizes:
    • First Prize: £35,000
    • Second Prize: £12,000 
    • Third Prize: £10,000 
    • Young Artist Award: £9,000 
  • Deadline for submissions: 16th January 2024
  • Who can apply? 
    • Artists from all over the world 
    • who MUST must be aged 18 years or over as of 1 January 2023.
    • Artists who are not eligible are employees of the National Portrait Gallery, the sponsor, their agents and previous first prize-winners of the Portrait Award since 1980.
  • What can you enter? One portrait only 
    • which was completed between 1 January 2020 – 16 January 2024 (i.e. while there was no competition)
    • which has never been submitted before
    • The work entered must be predominantly painted in oil, tempera or acrylic and must be on a stretcher or board, preferably framed and unglazed. No watercolours, works on paper or pastels will be considered.
  • What does it cost? £35 per entry
  • How is work selected?
    • A first round of selection will choose a longlist from digital entries
    • Artists are then invited to send the actual portrait to London for a second round of judging
  • The Portrait Award Exhibition opens next summer - a little later than usual - 11 July - 27 October 2024
    • Those shortlisted for prizes must attend the Awards Ceremony on the evening of Tuesday 9 July 2024
    • the winning portrait will be displayed in the NPG for 6 months
  • DOWNLOAD The Rules of the Competition
  • Tomorrow's blog post - in which I will provide more info and tips gleaned from reporting on this portrait award for over 15 years - since 2007! I've talked to lots of the artists and analysed a lot of the exhibitions.