Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Prizewinners at the 124th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

This post highlights the prizewinners at the 124th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. I'll be writing more about the exhibition on Saturday.

The Private View as per usual was packed. If anything I'd say there were even more people than usual.

The PrivateView
There are even more people in the other galleries and waiting outside!
A few brief words about the exhibition to start. It's very well hung - I gather a new hanging team have taken up the challenge of producing a good looking exhibition. The Conversations and Peoples choice exhibition in the Threadneedle space looks particularly good.

The only thing which puzzled me was why the first painting I'd ever seen in the Mall Galleries priced at £100,000 was in the North Gallery. It's a very good portrait by Jennifer Anderson of the current Director of the British Museum and the Director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Even more puzzling is why it's listed as £100,000 on the wall of the North Gallery (middle room), a "publicly commissioned work" on her website and as Not For Sale on the Mall Galleries website. Which is it? Has somebody confused value with price?

The exhibition opens to the public on Thursday 16th April and continues until the 1st May 2015 at the Mall Galleries. Catalogues are £10 and admission is £3 and £2.50 concession. Free to Friends of Mall Galleries, National Art Pass holders and under 18s

The Prizewinners

Some £35,000 in award money was distributed during the prizegiving ceremony due to some generous sponsorship.  There are three brand new prizes this year - and one of them was my idea!

The Seven Investment Management £15,000 'Conversations' Prize

The 'Conversations Prize is awarded for the best work interpreting the theme of a conversation piece, including two or more figures.
John Wonnacott CBW RP celebrated his 70th birthday with a cheque for £15,000 as the winner of the Conversations Prize in its inaugural year.

John Wonnacott with his painting
Ian and Lois, the White Slip
Oil, 225 cm x 135 cm

The painting which won the prize is a commission and is called Ian and Lois, The White Slip.  Ian, the The gentleman in the painting, has sat for a number of portraits with a sitting once a week and he and John know each other very well. The woman in the painting is his wife Lois. The background includes a very large painting John was working on. Plus a number of mirrors set up to create a more interesting background - you see the backs as well as the front of the couple - plus John himself sat in a chair in front of his easel.  It's a fascinating painting - it's a little bit like a puzzle with a bit of Van Eyck thrown in.

I asked John what he intended to spend the money on. John told me that he'd recently had to spend a lot of money having his garage rebuilt as this is where he stores his paintings (he generally has around 20 on the go at any one time) and, as it happened the work had cost £15,000 and the prize money means he has nice new watertight storage at absolutely no cost!

The Seven Investment Management £15,000 'Conversations' PrizeThe winning painting (right) with the runner up (left)
Note: The prize is actually my idea! It started a couple of years ago when I suddenly realised that virtually the paintings I saw in portrait exhibitions were singleton portraits and some of those were often just the head. It seemed to me that there was some significant deskilling going on when one compared portrait paintings today with paintings in the past when painting people in a group was something which was much more common than it seems to be today. An exhibition I saw prompted the notion in my head that the way to get people painting portraits of groups of people was to focus on the notion of the conversation piece and to have a rather big prize as an added incentive!  

So I started talking to people about it - and talked to the people at the NPG re. the BP Portrait Award as well as people at the Mall Galleries and the RP.  I had in mind a little healthy competition! I was convinced one of them would see the wisdom of stretching artists to create more interesting portraits. Plus of course it expands the scope for more portrait commissions!  

I'm very pleased by the calibre of the paintings selected for the exhibition - I'd be very surprised if they don't generate a few commissions! I'd particularly like to thank the Mall Galleries and the RP for running with the idea and Seven Management for providing the sponsorship - it's absolutely fantastic to see my idea come to fruition!

The £10,000 Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture and the RP Gold Medal 

for the most distinguished prize in the exhibition

Brian Morris with his painting
Upp åt Bäcken (Up the Creek)
Upp åt Bäcken (Up the Creek) by Brian Morris won this prize.  It's not the first time it's been won by somebody who has come through the Open Entry but it's certainly unusual. Brian also won the second prize in the Derwent Art Prize in 2014.

Brian is a young Australian artist who lives in Sweden and is recently divorced. The latter status is very relevant to the painting as it's a portrait an older couple and interestingly it's not a portrait from life and is entirely imaginary. In this instance, in effect it's a portrait of how Brian wants to be when he's older - still loving a partner.
"It's a picture of me when I'm old"
Brian told me that he starts by making marks and the idea for the painting develops out of this.  His recent divorce influenced the topic for the painting and it reflects his certainty of where he will be in the future

He intends to spend his £10,000 prize money on continuing to invest in his career.

Brian has exhibited extensively in Sweden and is currently looking for a suitable gallery to represent him in the UK.

The de Laszlo Foundation Prize

£3,000 plus a Silver Medal for the most outstanding portrait by an artist aged 35 years or under
Lorna May Wadsworth won both the De Lazlo Prize and a newly created prize of Runner Up for the
The Seven Investment Management £15,000 'Conversations' Prize. I loved the concept and title of this piece

They Have Lunch Every Tuesday by Lorna May Wadsworth

The Prince of Wales Award for Portrait Drawing

£2,000 and framed certificate for a portrait in any recognised drawing medium
Sammy G by Jason Bowyer
This award was won by Jason Bowyer RP PPNEAC PS who dedicated the prize to his father, the painter William Bowyer, who died a few weeks ago

Changing Faces Commissions Prize

£2,000 commission to produce a portrait of a person with a disfigurement for the Changing Faces collection
Paulina by Hero Johnson
Hero Johnson is the PR and Marketing Manager at The Heatherley School of Fine Art as well as being a figurative artist and a filmmaker. She  was invited to exhibit work by Jason Bowyer.

The Burke’s Peerage Foundation Award

£2,000 and framed certificate for the most classically inspired portrait in the exhibition.
This award was won by an incredible refined rendering of a woman called Shubha by Miriam Escofet

This is an article from the Heatherley's blog called about a new course which she is teaching - The Alchemy of Oil Painting with Miriam Escofet.

I was particularly impressed by the hands she painted in another nearby painting that she also did.

Detail of Kathryn and Milo by Miriam Escofet

Smallwood Architects Prize for contextual portraiture

£1,000 prize is for a portrait in which architectural or interior features play an important part.
Living Room with Lamps by Tom Hughes
This was won by a very nice painting called Living Room with Lamps by Tom HughesInterestingly as soon as I saw the "Indoors" section of his website I knew who he was.  He's a prolific and accomplished painter.

This is his blog - definitely worth a read.

The Arts Club Charitable Trust Award in association in with The Arts Club

£1,000 to the most deserving artist in the exhibition, as judged by a representative from the Charitable Trust.
Awarded jointly to Emma Hopkins and Claire Anscomb


  1. Thank you for this, I picked Lorna's Painting as my favourite, so glad to see it got recognition. Also pleased to spot Tom Hughes painting, he paints the reflected image in a convex mirror, because, I believe, he has very limited peripheral vision.
    Portraiture is such a taxing genre to work in, I'm so glad the society of portrait painters has made their exhibition such a success.

  2. Oh - I didn't know that about Tom - thank you for sharing.

  3. My painting probably wouldn't have existed without the incentive of the Conversations prize. Congratulations bringing your idea to fruition!

  4. I loved your painting Ewan! It will be featured in the post on Saturday.

    I still want to know about the painting from behind your easel - sorry not to have caught up with you at the PV before you left. You can't see people for crowds at that particular PV!


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