Sunday, July 03, 2016

Video and review of BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2016

The 2016 Exhibition for the BP Portrait Award is very different from previous years. 

That's not a surprise given that threre's been a change in the Director of the National Portrait Gallery and this year Jenny Saville was asked to be a member of the Selection Panel. The Director of the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland was also involved with the selection this year.

Video of the BP Portrait Exhibition 2016

For those familiar with the exhibition you can see the changes for yourself in my video of the exhibition below (which you can also see on youTube).  As usual the 'bumpy' view is due to me literally walking with my iPhone6+ around the gallery.

Apologies for the lack of audio - there's normally background "hum" but in this instance there was music playing and I don't have the copyright permission - hence it's now a very quiet video!

If you're unable to visit the exhibition, my video is particularly relevant to:
  • getting a much better understanding of the relative size of the individual paintings
  • appreciating more about the choice of subject, size, style, palette and approach to painting a portrait for this exhibition.
You can find out more about the individual artists:
  • on the NPG website - see exhibitors. Click the individual images to see a bigger image and read about the painting and the artist
  • in my blog post BP Portrait Award 2016: Selected Artists - which lists those selected by country and also includes links to their websites (where one can be found).

What's different in the 2016 Exhibition

The main changes I noticed are as follows:
  • there are many more smaller portraits.  This is possibly a reflection of the cost of shipping original works - but I think is more likely to have been a deliberate choice by selectors.  I think it's maybe partly a rejection of the notion that you have to "go big to impress" - which is no bad thing. (I'm going to do a count of the sizes of the portraits - and will add this in to this post. I ran out of time today having had complications with making the video and the video upload. I do however now know where a video which has been made but crashes before it is shared goes on my iMac!)
  • the photorealistic style has taken a back seat. A number of those painting realistic paintings are in fact painting from life.
  • there are an awful lot of portraits cropped to head and shoulders / head and upper torso (ie minus hands) 
  • there are absolutely no big heads of the type which were very prevalent in recent years
This view inclues the largest head in the exhibition
    • spouses and partners eg 
    • brother and sisters and in laws eg 
    • parents eg LMF03 by France Borden
    • grandparents eg Bo Wang's grandmother in Silence
    • close friends eg 

It seemed to me that the paintings selected this year in general have stuck much more closely to the brief. They represent portraits by people who have had plenty of opportunity to work from life with their subject.
One exception is Diversion by Charlie Masson - which does NOT conform to the brief for the paintings i.e.
The work entered should be a painting based on a sitting or study from life and the human figure must predominate.
I also noticed that, by and large, only well established portrait artists are painting people of note.

I must confess I'm very much in favour of this approach to selection. To my mind everybody selected for the exhibition should in theory be capable of accepting a commission from the National Portrait Gallery to paint a famous person. To do that they must be capable of making studies of and painting from life.

I pondered on the influence Jenny Saville brought to bear on the exhibition. She told me at the Awards Ceremony that she pushed hard for more painterly paintings.  It's certainly the case that are more painterly portraits and much less hyper-realism than I've seen in the past.

I'm going to do a count of the sizes of the portraits - and also count the different types of portraits (eg head only; head and torso; head and hands etc) and will add this in to this post. I ran out of time today having had complications with making the video and the video upload. I do however now know where a video which has been made but crashes before it is shared goes on my iMac!

I wonder what would happen next year if it was a requirement that every portrait had to include hands as well as a head?

More about the BP Portrait Award 2016

These are my blog posts


  1. The video is so informative and enjoyable, thank you so much.

  2. Thank you for posting this video. It provides an excellent overview
    of the exhibition which has some truly incredible figurative/portrait
    paintings. If you are able to do this regarding future exhibitions
    that would be great. I enjoy Making A Mark it is very informative
    and interesting.

  3. I love to view this exhibition but do so usually in Edinburgh . I am delighted that there are less hyper realistic pieces. Thank you so much for this wonderful blog...I never get to see the other shows you report on, your blog let me feel like I am there!

  4. Excellent - as I can't get to the exhibition, this is particularly welcome. Thank you Katherine!


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