Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sophie Ploeg and The Lace Trail - BP Travel Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

Sophie Ploeg's BP Travel Award exhibition 'The Lace Trail" can currently be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in London - until 21 September 2014.  It then tours to Sunderland and Edinburgh in 2014-15.

Sophie Ploeg with part of The Lace Trail
the exhibition for the BP Travel Award 2013
at the National Portrait Gallery - 26 June - 21 September 2014

The exhibition follows on from Sophie winning the BP Travel Award in 2013.  Her exhibition is about Fabric and Lace in Early 17th Century Portraiture - An Interpretation in Paint. To my mind it's a bit of a masterclass in how to portray complex fabrics in portraits - in the past and the present - as well as an academic exercise in understanding something about the art history of the portrayal of lace and how paintings from the past can inspire those of today.

What follows is:
  • a video interview with Sophie Ploeg
  • photographs of Sophie and her models - with their portraits
  • photographs of the exhibition
  • a review of her book - produced as a result of her project.
I'm afraid this post got bumped by the proofing and final stages of my book and then my unexpected admission to hospital. However the book is on its way to the printers and I'm now getting back to blogging more normally, so.......

Sophie Ploeg in front of
She Becomes Her (2013)
oil on linen, 1010 x 660mm

The Lace Trail

As my video interview with Sophie makes clear, winning the BP Travel Award does not actually give you a year to deliver a project.

The paintings all need to be completed and ready to hand in well before the opening of the exhibition.

So a good deal of preparation and planning and being very organised helps enormously when it comes to producing a quality exhibition - in just 8 months!  It's very evident that Sophie was very organised and got all the trips, work and the paintings finished on time - at the same time as being a wife and mother of two young sons!  This was a woman on a mission!

The exhibition

The Lace Trail exhibition forms part of the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - if you go to one you will see the other. Sophie's exhibition is near the door and is the section hung on grey walls.

Background to the "The Lace Trail" - some facts

Sophie Ploeg was born and bred in the Netherlands. She came to the UK in 2000 and now lives in the West Country with her husband and two sons. She's a practising professional portrait artist working in oils and pastels (who also paints still life - very often of fabrics) and undertakes portrait and garment commissions.  Her work has been exhibited in the annual exhibitions of a number of national and major regional art societies - including the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Pastel Society.

Note: Having seen a lot of Sophie's work in prestigious exhibitions in recent years I'd highly recommend her for anybody who wants a permanent painted record of a particular fabric or clothing. She's definitely one of the best I know at portraying material and fabrics - which can be so important to the completion of a portrait or sometimes even be a record of a person or event in their own right.

She studied art and architectural history (MA, Ph.D) at Dutch universities. Consequently she came to her project very well versed in the art of research related to her interests!

Her winning proposal outlined a project to explore how fashion and lace was represented in 17th century art, as well as in modern applications.

The project has involved a lot of work besides painting! In pursuing her project she has:
  • visited famous lace-making centres such as Bruges in Belgium and Honiton in Devon
  • met modern lace makers and artists, 
  • viewed antique lace collections in Bruges, Honiton, Bath and Gloucestershire
  • visited 17th century art collections including, amongst others:
    • the National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery, the Tate Gallery in England, and
    • the Rijksmuseum and the Frans Hals Museum in The Netherlands
  • spent 8 months reading around the subject and undertaking a significant amount of research about art history and the history of lace.
  • produced 10 paintings in total as a result of her project - of which seven are on display in the exhibition.
  • written a book - The Lace Trail

A lot of information about the project is also available on a sub-domain of her website - For example you can:
  • read about her adventure in lace on her blog and her website (see research 1 and research 2)
  • see A Year in Pictures - a slideshow of photos taken during the course of her travels and work

Video interview with Sophie Ploeg

I interviewed Sophie prior to the opening of the exhibition to the public and she provided a splendid account of what it's like winning the award and the work involved to deliver the exhibition - and a book to accompany it.

The Four Ages of Women

What I found very pleasing is that all of her portraits were of women. Sophie's portraits also provide a contemporary twist on the early 17th century portraiture she studied in museums across the UK and the Netherlands.  I found myself guessing which portrait paintings had inspired her!

Sophie and her models

Another layer to the portraits completed are the portraits which inspired Sophie's portraits.
I wanted to honour these women (in the 17th century paintings) and the lace in my portraits. Although the sitters were often rich and famous they were still just women, like me and perhaps you, with their own feelings and taste. Their beautiful portraits inspired me to create portraits of women today: 21st century women. I have created four portraits that each represents a phase in our life, four generations of women. he women are not related in any way, except they share many things with us and the women of 400 years ago.
Below you can see Sophie's portrait painting and her models for her series The Four Ages of Women.

The Four Ages of Woman - a series of four paintings
oil on linen, 50 x 60cm
This series portrays modern 21st century women at various stages of their lives
Their portraits portray them wearing an authentic piece of early 17th century lace, as often seen in 17th century portraits.
(top left) The Lacemaker
(Top right) A Fine Thread
(Bottom left) Repeating Patterns
(bottom right) The Pearl Necklace

The models were told to wear what they liked and then Sophie added an original piece of antique lace - acting as a remnant and echo of the past.  She took as inspiration one or more of the paintings she had identified during her research.

The four paintings are:

Other paintings

Three more paintings are in the exhibition. These are:
  • Pleating Time - I think this is one of my favourites, Sophie had to learn how to produce a ruff to paint this self-portrait
  • She Becomes Her - Another favourite - partly because of the face but also because of the spectacularly good painting of the fabric
  • The Handkerchief Girl - this is a play on the recurring motif of a handkerchief in 17th century portraits
Pleating Time by Sophie Ploeg (2013)
oil on linen, 400 x 600mm

The Tour

After the exhibition finishes in London it will then tour to
  • Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens - 4 October – 16 November 2014 -
  • The Scottish National Portrait Gallery - 28 November – 12 April 2015 -

Prints and Book

Cover of 'The Lace Trail' book
The Book 'The Lace Trail contains details of Sophie's findings about
  • early 17th century portraiture in England and The Netherlands, 
  • the history of early lace, 
  • styles of painting lace
  • the background story to her paintings and 
  • a catalogue section with all 10 paintings.
It includes lots of interesting detail - including details of Sophie's assessment of how past artists such as Rembrandt, Franz Hals and William Larkin painted lace.

You can buy a signed copy of the book direct from Sophie

Alternatively you can order her book and/or prints of the portraits from the National Portrait Gallery online shop or buy them in the shops within the Gallery.

Follow Sophie Ploeg

If you'd like to follow Sophie here are the links to her website and various social media sites:

More about the BP Travel Award

The BP Travel Award 2013 was judged by:
  • Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, 
  • Liz Rideal, Art Resource Developer, National Portrait Gallery, and 
  • Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP.
My blog post year about Sophie winning the award contained Tips for Travel Award Applicants

See also my previous BP Travel Award posts on this blog


  1. lovely posy, lovely work, thank you

  2. Thanks for this post Katherine.
    The culmination is an impressive group of paintings and was a serious project.
    I have yet to go back and catch up on the blog posts I missed throughout the year but this is my reminder.
    Her contemporary twist, painting in her own time, is also why She is included in The Women Painting Women Show, Principle Gallery here in the US.

    For those of us in the art world we know how much time (and expense) can and has to be spent on not only one painting but a body of work.
    I hope Sophie's back story of this also educates those that only see the end result hanging in a gallery or museum.

    Look forward to see next years.


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