Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BP Portrait Award 2009 - the shortlist

The BP Portrait Award for 2009 - one of Britain's most prestigious art prizes - will be announced on Tuesday 16th June.
The entire competition is judged, on an equal and anonymous basis, from original paintings. An exhibition is then created from a selection of the entries.
My prediction - Last year I predicted which artist would win and got it right for both The BP Portrait Award and the Young Artist Award prior to seeing the art in person! I don't know if I can repeat that feat again this year but here goes......

I don't know the size of each of the work or even what media has been used to paint them. However, after looking only at the images, my initial reaction is that the winner will be Michael Gaskell with Tom - but then I'm a great fan of Holbein! I then looked at the bios and that only served to confirm my view as most previous winners have done well in previous BP Award exhibitions and Michael Gaskell is the only artist to have been previously shortlisted for a prize.

These are the three artists who have been short-listed from a record number of 1,901 entries received for this Award which is now in its 30th year.

Annalisa Avancini for Manuel

1000mm x 800 mm, oil
copyright Annalisa Avancini

Annalisa, 35, is a painter and design teacher from Italy who studied at the Arts High School of Trento and the Marangoni Institute in Milan. She worked as a fashion designer for several years before turning to teaching in 2003. This was the third time that Avancini had painted Manuel, 31, a friend she met when staying with her brother in the mountains of the Trento province.
His eclectic personality is what attracts me. His story shines through his face. Despite his young age his life is rich in experience.
Avancini started this most recent portrait last summer, attracted by the contrast between Manuel’s expression, the old chair and the sunlight coming in through the window. Avancini’s work has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States and she won First Prize in both the 1st Contemporary Art Show 2006 at the Museum of the Americas, Miami and the Painting Prize for Young Artists 2007 at the Verona Fine Art Society.

Michael Gaskell for Tom

270 x 210 mm, Egg Tempera
copyright Michael Gaskell

Gaskell, 46, studied at St Helen’s College of Art and Design and Coventry Polytechnic and has been exhibiting his work for over twenty years. The shortlisted portrait is of his son, Tom, who was 17 at the time of the first sitting. Gaskell continued to work on the portrait over the next two years.
He was at the period in adolescence between boy and manhood and fleetingly suspended between both. In spirit my painting owes most to Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man which is its primary inspiration and a painting I’ve always loved. The pose itself is more reminiscent of a number of portraits by Holbein, an artist I greatly admire.
Gaskell won Second Prize in the BP Portrait Award 2003 and was commended in both 1999 and 2001 and his work has been the subject of five solo exhibitions.

Peter Monkman for Changeling 2.

Changeling 2
1220 x 900 mm
copyright Peter Monkman

Currently Director of Art at Charterhouse, Surrey, Monkman, 44, studied visual arts at University of Lancaster, John Moores University Liverpool and the University of London. The shortlisted portrait is part of a series of portraits of his daughter, Anna, that explores the concept of the changeling, a child substituted for another by stealth, often with an elf.
I challenge the fixed notion of an idealised image of childhood and substitute it for a more unsettling, complex, representation that exists in its own right as a painting.
The initial ideas for this portrait came from photographic studies of Anna playing in woods in Brittany where the light had a magical quality. Monkman’s work has previously been exhibited in the BP Portrait Award in 1999, 2001 and 2003 and more recently at the Mall Galleries, Cadogan Contemporary, Watts Gallery and at the Science Museum, London.

Young Artist of the Year: Interestingly none of the three artists identified above are eligible for the BP Young Artist Award (£5,000) as all are over the age of 30. The information I've got doesn't say who has been shortlisted for the Young Artist Award.

Panel of Judges: The competition was judged from original paintings by this year’s panel;
  • Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London (Chair)
  • James Holloway, Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
  • Gillian Wearing, artist and photographer
  • Charlotte Mullins, art historian and critic
  • Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP
This year’s BP competition entry was of a very high quality, with a large number from around the world. The short-listed works show the range of techniques and styles that make portrait painting so exciting
Sandy Nairne
, Director, National Portrait Gallery

Some BP Award statistics

For those interested to see how their entry fared I've got some statistics relating to the competition and will be posting those in another post tomorrow.

Exhibition details

The exhibition of the BP Portrait Award 2009 and the BP Travel Award 2008 - supported by BP - is in the Wolfson Gallery of the National portrait Gallery from 18 June until 20 September 2009. Admissions is free. After that it will subsequently tour in 2009-10 to Southampton City Art Gallery and the Dean Gallery of the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm)
Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm)
Recorded information: 020 7312 2463
General information: 020 7306 0055
Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross

Links to past posts about the BP Portrait Award on this blog:


    I am curious to hear comments about this choice. It seems like the photographic trend of the past years is at least partially confirmed with this year's selection.
    I like Gaskell's work but I am afraid I find the other two works not very special. Both ( at least from the web images )seem to be painted with exceedingly dirty greys and the paint handling looks rather plain.
    I think the richterian fairy lights behind the child's head are tacky and they seem an effort to superimpose the "changeling" theme; do they make any difference to the portrait?
    Avancini cockeyed big head does not strike me as a masterpiece, unless some illustrious critic says it's many more big heads will make the show?
    Gaskell's one is the only solid piece of work of the three, and holds everything within without funky "contemporary" gimmicks. I root for him.

  2. Ilaria - I agree - I yearn for the good old days when the portraits did rather more than demonstrate that an artist could paint a head.

    Given that the winner will be commissioned to paint a notable person - and that many such portraits go way beyond "just a big head" - it would be nice to know that they can do more than just paint a head.

    I'm not hugely impressed by the other two in terms of the reproductions shown here - but I've learned that reproductions can misrepresent - especialy when we don't know either the size or media.

    I've had a search on the net and I think the Gaskell might be in egg tempera - in which case I'm even more impressed. There's certainly a Gaskell who paints in egg tempera and his 2nd prize in 2003 wasd for a painting in tempera.

  3. The NPG has now got back to me and I've now updated the post with the dimensions and media

    As I suspected the Gaskell is a tempera painting and is much smaller than the other two.

  4. I think the pallet and modeling in the Changeling make the young girl look like centenarian. I don't mind the pallet in the Manuel painting given the subject but I'm with Ilaria in rooting for Gaskell.

  5. " I agree - I yearn for the good old days when the portraits did rather more than demonstrate that an artist could paint a head."

    That is too funny.

    I actually find that Gaskell painting, while technically very very well done, so STIFF. Anyone else? The other two have movement and a bit of emotion.

    I sort of like the twinkle lights... :-)

    I'd love to see the whole show though! I think 'll buy the program again when it is available online for purchase.

    Now if they could just allow drawings in that exhibition!?

  6. My favorite is Gaskell's. She painted it during 2 years! But I wonder if that level of excelence could be achived in the term given to a commision...
    I think that painting could only be done by a mother on a son's portrait, his eyes, expression, everything evoques motherhood, love and pride, in my eyes as a mother.
    (sorry for the English)

  7. Carolina, Gaskell is the father,but everything else you say applies.
    One of the previous BP judges once wrote that looking at more than a thousand entries, it was natural that bigger works would strike the jurors more than smaller ones which would require a closer exam.
    What I did not share in recent selections was the prevalence of
    -works painted from photographs
    -works in an exaggerated scale ( I remember a huge disturbing head of a child with chicken pox, although I really liked Brandon Kelly's out of scale portrait of his brother).
    I believe that one derives from the other, that this sort of aesthetic of the big scale comes from those big closeup/blowups popular in the seventies and eighties. In painting I find them alien to the portrait genre and just unpleasant to look at, especially when seen not in a big gallery but in a normal house.

  8. Ilaria - you highlight the conundrum!

    Do you paint big to get noticed by juries?

    Or do paint to a design and size which will more likely earn a commission?

    Interestingly I note that very few of the commissioned works at the recent exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters were of the "big heads" or "enormous people" type of work which has been submitted to this exhibition in recent years.

    There are certainly artists who submit to both. However the ones who seem to make the transition to becoming successful portrait painters - and who get the major commissions - seem to be those who can both produce a good painting and also produce a portrait which has meaning or speaks of the sitter.

    I also don't recall noticing a lot of big heads amongst the NPG's recent commissions. I do also wonder who would choose to be represented as a "big head"............

  9. Given the ever decreasing chances of being selected ( thank you very much for obtaining these enlightening statistics) I'll keep going for the second option.

  10. I can confirm that the digital images are misleading and that in fact all three images look much better in real life - and I urge people to go and see the exhibition if they can

    It will be touring around the UK.


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