Thursday, April 26, 2007

Portrait completed in 2 hours wins Ondaatje Prize

The £10,000 Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture and a Gold Medal has been awarded to Michael Reynolds RP for a portrait which took him precisely 125 minutes to execute. The announcement was made yesterday at the Private View for the Annual Exhibition for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

'Joan' is 17" x 13", painted in oil and was payment in kind to a model who had helped him with modelling for other paintings. The narrative accompanying the portrait in the catalogue says as follows...
We had agreed two hours for her portrait and when that time was up, I laid down my brushes. Joan assessed it and looked pleased but I was not content with the eyes. She said 'But we agreed on two hours.' I pleaded for not more than 5 minutes. She relented. In five minutes precisely, the eyes were re-painted to our mutual satisfaction.
I think if I were Joan I'd think I'd just got a very handsome reward for the modelling work!

The challenge of completing a portrait in two hours is one with which I'm familiar - except I do mine in pencil rather than oils. However it is amazing how creating a difficulty such as a constraint on time can enable artists to work both quickly and more assuredly on occasion. I'm not comparing myself to Michael Reynolds - who now has the distinction of being the only artist to have ever won the Ondaatje Prize twice - but I do think, in general, that less time and less 'thoughtful' deliberation sometimes means more instinctive drawing/painting and less fiddling.

It was strictly standing room only at the Private View at the Mall Galleries yesterday as we listened to Julian Fellowes open the exhibition and present the prizes. Those who know the galleries well will appreciate what I mean when I say that both West and East Galleries were absolutely packed out with artists, actual and potential clients, galleries, press and some of the celebrity subjects.

Prizes were awarded as follows:
  • The Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture awarded for the most distinguished portrait of the year - 'Joan' (oil, 17" x 13") by Michael Reynolds RP (previously won the Ondaatje Award in 2003 and was the inspiration and driving force behind the setting up of the Discerning Eye Competition)
  • The HSBC Investments Prize for the best portrait by an artist aged 35 years or under - 'Nina Cline' (acrylic, 37" x 23") by Emma Wesley (2005 winner of the De Lazlo Award)
  • The De Lazlo Foundation Award for the best portrait submitted by an artist aged 25 years or under - 'Inky' (oil on canvas, 63" x 47") by Patrick Bremer
  • The Prince's Drawing School Award for Portrait Drawing - 'Charlotte' by Saied Dai RP (who won the Ondaatje Prize last year)
  • The Changing Faces Prize for the portrait that is 'most powerful in the way that the subject communicates with the viewer beyond the canvas' - 'Sir Viv Richards' (oil, 72" x 72") by Brendan Kelly RP (previous winner of the De Lazlo ward in 2004 and the HSBC prize in 2005). You can see more of his work on his website
As ever I was interested in what John Ward CBE, 90 this year, was exhibiting by way of pastels on mid-toned Ingres paper. His works were displayed alongside an absolutely splendid portrait of Boris Johnson MP by Felicity Gill (which looks rather better in reality than it does on her website) . Despite Boris describing the experience as a privilege and "glorious ego massage", Ms Gill describes how it was quite difficult trying to pin him down at his offices at The Spectator.
"The sitting was constantly interrupted....eventually I resorted to getting him to climb out of a window onto a small roof where he sat, captive, in an old deckchair"
Such are the trials of a portrait painter! She also did a similar excellent job with her portrait of Joan Bakewell.

I'm sure that John Ward's oval painting in the middle of the sketch below (with half a Boris) is a nod in the direction of a self-portrait by (I think) a female artist of merit in art history, but can't remember which! Anybody got any ideas?

John Ward meets Boris Johnson at the Mall Galleries
8" x 10", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Another artist who caught my eye with all three portraits exhibited was David Cobley RP, NEAC, RWA. All three made me stop and look more closely and "One man and his dog" was a hoot. Another really striking and amusing piece was Judith Barton's "Siblings in black hats".

It was also very pleasing to see so many portrait drawings in pencil, charcoal and sanguine. Lots of very accomplished work - both large and small - on show.

A couple of portraits seemed to have attracted attention from the press. Sergei Pavlenko's painting of the royal family gathering at Sandhurst is the first to include the Duchess of Cornwall in the picture. Michael Noakes RP is the only painter for whom the Pope has actually sat for a portrait and his study for the portrait of Pope Benedict, now hanging in the Vatican, is displayed at the exhibition. It's a portrait of a man of a good humour - I'm not sure whether it was the eyes or the mouth but something smiled back at me.

For those maybe interested in entering this competition/exhibition next year see this page on the RSPP website.

The exhibition runs until 13th May, entry £2.50, open between 10.00am and 5.00pm (except for the last day) and until 7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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  1. you will keep me busy with these wonderful links, thanks!

    terrific sketchbook pages too, you have inspired with the wall of paintings, a new exhibit opens today at our museum here, "Rule Britannia!", I may attempt a wall of paintings too though what is offered will be daunting to copy!

  2. Please note that the Ondaatje Prize was subsequently re-awarded.

    See this post


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