Thursday, May 05, 2011

Review: Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2011 (Part 2)

Following Part 1 of my review - which focused on awardwinners, in this second part of my review I'm going to focus more on the work which attracted my attention.

Interestingly - as an aside - portraiture seems to ignore all the 'rules' about contemporary framing for exhibitions in London and there are many dark and heavy frames in the show.  Although a number had progressed towards framing in more neutral and lighter tones.

A wall in the North Gallery
I need to reiterate what a very high standard of representational art the artists selected for the exhibition have achieved.  Paintings and drawings in all media are very impressive.  You can see more work by the artists highlighted by clicking the link - embedded in their name - to their website


There are some feature walls of drawings near the cafe area with other drawings being dotted around the exhibition.

Alan Coulson - a non member - has two very accomplished drawings in graphite in the show - Freya and Personal profile.  His work has also been exhibited in the BP Portrait Award in the past and again this year.  He struck me as being the sort of person I'd expect to see with RP after his name at some point in the future.  (One of his paintings last year Ciara was quite beautiful; Latoyah has been selected for the BP in 2011).  Both his drawings and his paintings have a sense of a very quiet insistance on being noticed.  They're not in any way "look at me" works, however they are meticulous and project a very strong sense of acute observation.  I can only imagine they are worked up from photographs, however there is something about them which makes me not ask the question "why not just display the photograph".

a selection of drawings
I very much liked Adrian Neil's impressive charcoal drawing of actor Michael Sheen (who has played the unlikely trio of Tony Blair, Brian Clough and Kenneth Williams) who I would not have recognised but for him being on a television show recently which showed he has curly hair.

It was good to see a pastel work with very agreeable mark-making in the works on display in Anthony Morris RP NEAC pastel drawing of Ray Finch MBE craftsman potter.   Other drawings I liked were by Stuart Whitton and Benjamin Sullivan RP.

Ray Finch MBE craftsman potter by Anthony Morris RP NEAC


Talking with Valerie Grove by June Mendoza
I enjoyed reading the article by Valerie Grove - Put Me in the Picture in the Sunday Times Magazine on 1st May - about what it was like to sit for a portrait by June Mendoza AO OBE RP ROI HonSWA.
I ask Mendoza her view of artists who paint from photographs. A lot of people turn out competent, wonderful stuff that way, but I can't work like that. I want nothing in between me and the person. When I see a beautiful portrait done from blown-up photographs, I think, That must have been a splendid photograph. Why don't they use the photograph
It was great to be able to see the portrait which resulted.  I also liked her portrait of Dr David Starkey (see her website for a large imageThe event on Monday 16th May involves both June Mendoza and David Starkey - along with other participants - in a discussion about the process of portraiture
Recognised portrait artists and distinguished sitters discuss portraiture from the inside.
I chatted to my ex tutor James Lloyd RP (who won the Arts Award) about his portrait of the Queen.  It was done as a commission for Queen's College Cambridge and he was granted two sittings of an hour each, which meant that a lot of the work necessarily had to be done from photographs and studies.  I thought he'd done an excellent job of capturing ehat I think of as a characteristic face.  His latest commission is a portrait of Dame Maggie Smith for the National Portrait Gallery.

HM Queen Elizabeth II by James Lloyd
I puzzled over Daphne Todd's constructed portraits.  They rather give the impression that the portrait is extended if the initial painting of the the head and upper torso appear goes OK.  At which point panels are added on behind the main panel but not necessarily to create a rectangular format.  One of the advantages of going to the Private View is that if you've very lucky you can yourself set up with an eyeline which contains both the model and the portrait - as occurred with Julian Fellowes, actor and writer of Downton Abbey.

Julian Fellowes, The Lord Fellowes of West Stafford by Daphne Todd

I was fascinated to see Toby Wiggins's portrait in oil of Jim Bennett, retired Hunt Servant - which I first saw as a drawing in the 2007 exhibition of the work he had done as a result of winning the 2006 BP Travel Award

I also liked Nicholas Martin's Three men on the Isle of Wight and Emily Porter Salmon's painting of David Hockney, a local artist

A wall of small works

View of the West Gallery - 120th Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Open Exhibition 2011
After touring the exhibition about three times, I was sat doing my usual sketches of people visiting the exhibition while having my cup of tea - only to find that I was being entertained by the mellifluous and unmistakable tones of Sir Donald Sinden sat immediately behind me - while I watched Rolf Harris and his wife work their way up the portraits on the wall in front of me!  Such is the nature of the Private View for this art society!

You can see a slideshow of images of some of the portraits on the BBC website

Finally I gather from Annabel Elton, the very nice lady who provides the support for people wanting to commission an artist from one of the Art Societies based at the Mall, that the RP website is being relaunched in the very near future.  I had a look-see at the pilot and it looks really great - very contemporary and accessible.

How to see the exhibition

The exhibition can be seen at the Mall Galleries every day until Friday 20th May between the hours of 10 and 5. Admission £2.50, £1.50 concessions, (Free to FBA Friends, Art Fund members, Westminster Res-card holders and under 16s).

Links to Royal Society of Portrait Painters:
Links to posts about previous exhibitions:
Links re Portraiture:


  1. I have enjoyed reading your reviews of the show and felt like I was there alongside you (and behind Rolf Harris). The portraits are amazing this year.

    Do you think by ignoring the rules of contemporary framing there may be a change in framing direction occurring?

  2. No - I tend to think portraits are a bit of a special case

    A number of these portraits are commissioned and hence the framing will not necessarily be at the artist's preference. The client may have a strong view about what's right and what they want

    Also a portrait is very often intended to stand out and attract attention and the darker frame helps to do that. Where the quality of the portrait is such that the frame does not swamp it then the two together can be a powerful statement.

    By the same token a dark frame on a weak work will swamp it. However there are no weak works in this show!


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