Thursday, May 28, 2009

BP Portrait Award - who enters and who gets selected

Number and percentage of artists selected - by age group

I've been sent some data relating to who entered and who got accepted into the BP Portrait Award - and being an inveterate number cruncher I duly crunched - and this post summarises the key messages!

Who enters?

More artists over the age of 40 are entering each year

2,006 2,007 2,008 2,009
Under 40 1,113 1,164 947 1,015
Over 40
706 780 881
Total Entries 1,113 1,870 1,727 1,896
  • there's been a big increase in the number of entries since 2007 which was the first year that the BP Portrait Award was opened up to all age groups
  • however the number of artists under the age of 40 has remained relatively static
  • while the major increase in entries has come from artists aged over the age of 40
Over a quarter of the entry comes from abroad
  • this percentage increased significantly after 2007 as international artists began to realise that the Award accepted entries from overseas and the significance of the Award in the world of portraiture
Who gets selected?

The chances of selection reduces as the number of entries grows
  • The gallery in which portraits are exhibited has a finite size and the number of works in the exhibition do not vary much from year to year
  • That means that as the number of entries increases, the chances of getting selected reduces
  • In 2007, 3.21% of entries were selected. In 2009, the percentage has dropped to 2.95%
  • In very broad terms, the chances of being selected are 3 in 100.
Fewer UK artists are now selected for the exhibition and now account for around two thirds of the exhibiting artists
  • overall there has been a decrease in the number of entries selected from UK Artists. In 2006, UK artists represented 79% of the artists in the exhibition. The percentage this year is just 68%
  • How this links to the increased number of entries, the increase in the average age of the entrants and the increase in competition from international artists is unclear.
International artists have a better chance of being selected
  • the number of entries from international artists have increased - as have the number selected for exhibition
  • however in 2009 when compared to their peer group, international artists are also more likely to be selected
  • this means that in 2009 the number of international artists selected - as a percentage of the number of international entries - is higher than the same statistic for UK entries.
  • this has changed from last year when the chances of selection were very even irrespective of source
Under or over 40 - chances of selection were even in 2009. HOWEVER, more artists over the age of 40 are being selected for the exhibition each year.
  • the proportion of artists - as a percentage of the number of entries for their age group - has increased for the over 40s since 2006 and decreased for the under 40s.
  • Selected artists over the age of 40 represent 2.95% (up from 2.27% in 2006)
  • Selected artists under the age of 40 represent 2.95% (down from 3.78% in 2006)
The major omission in the statistics

What the published statistics don't tell us is anything about gender.

I commented on this last year - in BP Portrait Award shortlist announced - a woman will win!
The fact that there is no female artist in the short-listed finalists (as in 2007 and 2005.........) is certainly not a fact I'd want to celebrate - hence the irony of the title of this post. There was one female finalist in 2006 and one in 2004 and a female artist did win in 2003 so it's not all bad news!

I'm not criticising the panel - I'm sure they picked what they saw as the best. Rather I'm suggesting that many more women artists need to enter competitions like this and the exhibitions with prestigious awards like the Ondaatje (as covered yesterday - see end). There are certainly many women artists who are extremely competent portrait painters and yet, as demonstrated for example by the membership of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters the portrait world seems to be overwhelmingly dominated by artists of the male gender!
I've noticed that the RSPP is improving - but there's still no data on gender from the BP Portrait award organisers.

Next year maybe they will ask the question? Do comment below if you'd like to know more.

Links to past posts about the BP Portrait Award on this blog:
Making a Mark reviews......


  1. What an interesting insight- never knew all this before, even from the organizers themselves!

  2. Would be nice to have comment about any common features of the work selected. From the very few pictures we can see here is hard to make any assumption on my own but I am ready...... There is certain commonality I see among UK artist. Maybe this is reason why international artist work is being picked up being different.

    1. Jack - You need to read my post from last summer - Review: BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2012 (Part 1) which focuses on my theory about what's important to getting selected.


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