Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Review - 123rd Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

Jennifer McRae's portrait "Conversations with Duncan" has won the £10,000 Ondaatje Prize plus the RSPP Gold Medal at the 123rd Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters for the most distinguished portrait of the year. Jennifer is not a member but was invited by the Society's President to submit a work.

In my opinion, it's a stunning work and it's worth going to the exhibition to see this painting alone. However there's another 215 paintings to see as well! You can see the exhibition at the Mall Galleries - it opens to the public from tomorrow until 23rd May 2014.

Here's a closer look at the head and the background of "Conversations with Duncan".

Conversations with Duncan by Jennifer McRae
A painting where you can play "spot the portrait' - contributions as comments please!
The wall of postcard sized drawings and paintings
includes her own portrait of Michael Frayn in the yellow jacket which is in the National Portrait Gallery
I spotted and recognised about 10 more at first glance - why not see how well you do?
......and below is the full length portrait.

What you don't see so well - unless familiar with Jennifer's wonderful "makes me green with envy" technique is that she paints in very washy oils. In fact she's the only oil painter I know who makes her work look like watercolour. Her works also has a quality which reminds me of Holbein - it's something to do with the draughtsmanship and the understated quality of much of her work. Never ever flashy and always unmistakably her own work. I recognised it as soon as I walked in and immediately commented on it being a very impressive work. I was in no way surprised to find she won the Ondaatje Prize - it deserved to!

Conversations with Duncan by Jennifer McRae
oil, 140 x 114c, (55 x 44 inches)
Not for sale
Flora Watson receiving her award


The other prizes awarded were as follows.

The de Lazlo Foundation Award (£3,000) for the artist aged 35 years judged to have submitted the best portrait - won by Flora Watson for Studio 2C. I have to say I much preferred her painting in last year's show which I thought was wonderful. (see
Bulldog Bursary 2013: Shortlisted artists)

The Changing Faces Prize (£2,000) for the portrait which most powerfully conveys the energy of their subject, the directness of the gaze and an attitude that exudes openness and confidence - won by Saied Dai RP, NEAC for his portrait of Jonathan Miller.

I really liked this portrait a lot and I'm pleased to say this was the second painting I picked out at the beginning of the show as outstanding.  For those who enjoy painting in oils do go and study his technique which, on its own, makes this a portrait which stands out.  Saied is also a painter for whom drawing is very important and this emphasis is highlighted in the draughtsmanship  in this painting.

Sam Dalby (left) and Saied Dai (right) with their paintings
Saied's prizewinning painting of Jonathan Miller is in the centre
Sam Dalby's paintings are on the top row.  He's a new member of the RP.
Both artists start their work through drawing directly from life - and it shows.
Do take a look at the drawings on both their websites.

The Prince of Wales Award for Portrait Drawing - Antony Williams RP PS NEAC. This was a preparatory drawing for a portrait and reveals Antony's inimitable style bracelet hatching and ability to combine both detail and abstraction in the same drawing.

Portraits by Antony Williams in egg tempera plus the drawing which won the prize
I'm a big fan of his work.
The Arts Club Charitable Trust Award (£1,000) - for the most deserving artist in the exhibition - Jack Joiner for his self portrait.

I must confess I've never seen a coloured pencil portrait this big before. Jack used Coloursoft pencils manufactured by Derwent Pencils. He's 23 and started drawing when he was little, took commissions from age 16 and started selling age 18.  Right now he's entirely focused on developing his skills and a body of work. He's self taught and usually paints or uses graphite for his drawings. This particular drawing uses a lot of overt and unapologetic hatching which I was very pleased to see as an inveterate hatcher of coloured pencils myself.

Jack Joiner with his self portrait 
Coloured pencils, 175 x 142cm (69 x 56 inches)

The exhibition

You can see a selection of the exhibition is available to browse and buy online at

The exhibition is a big improvement on last year (see my Review: Royal Society of Portrait Painters - Annual Exhibition 2013). There's a much better mix of paintings on the walls and the large and dull "stuffed shirt" corporate commissions for board rooms, the military and universities are largely gone or at the very least dispersed.

I still feel very strongly that there ought to be an emphasis on getting open entries into the West Gallery because frankly some of the open entries are much better than work by the members.  (Note Invited contributions from former BP award winners don't count because they're not open entries!).

Portrait hanging in the Threadneedle Space
Nobody could call Daphne Todd's corporate commissions on the left wall dull!
The North Gallery still seems to provide some of the very best work in the exhibition and includes a large self portrait by Mark Roscoe - the winner of last year's Ondaatje Prize and the previous year's Changing Faces Prize plus a portrait of Mr Hackel by Jan Mikulka, winner of last year's Self self-portrait prize.

The North Gallery - and actress Tamsin Greig standing with her portrait by Matthew Garrard
The exhibition includes the President's portrait of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair which has been receiving rather a lot of coverage in the press since the beginning of the week.  It's interesting to compare it to Alastair's portrait of Blair which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Portrait paintings by Alastair Adams plus large drawing by Andrew James

Another portrait I found difficult to ignore was this one.  I had to keep looking. You start by thinking it's a drawing - but it's a painting. It's in monochrome - but the subject has piercing blue eyes.  You think it's matted - but in fact the mat has been painted on to a panel.  I felt if I kept looking yet more secrets would come to light

Europa by Tomas Clayton
oil on masonite, 47 x 40cm

The Bulldog Trust Bursary

I like the large portrait done by Sarah Jane Moon, last year's winner of the Bulldog Bursary - worth £5,000. Entries for this year's bursary close on 19 May (12 noon).  Mostly because I do like a portrait which adds in content which helps tell the story of the person.  You can read more about Sarah Jane Moon in this interview Mi Blog Es Tu Blog - Sarah Jane Moon

Dr Laura Bridgeman, Clarence Road by Sarah Jane Moon
Oil, 176 x 130 cm (69 x 51 inches) £3,800

Plus links to my own websites for those wanting to learn more about portraiture and how to draw people

1 comment:

  1. I can really see why this appeals to you as it has the same feel as your work - the light airiness. :>)

    I really like it.


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