Monday, June 26, 2017

BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2017 - Video and Review

This post about the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition includes:
  • my video of the exhibition
  • my commentary on what I've noticed has changed in this year's exhibition
The exhibition is at the National Portrait Gallery until 24 September 2017 - admission is free.

The entrance to the National Portrait Gallery with the two feature banners

Video of the BP Portrait Exhibition 2017

Those used to my annual videos of the BP Portrait Exhibitions will know I'm literally walking around at the least busy bit of the evening devoted to the Awards Ceremony - and trying not to annoy the team of staff by going too slowly. So apologies to all those who would have liked a slower video. Also, where I'm getting up close to certain paintings it's because I'm squeezing into the tiny space behind the podium used for the speeches and presentations! Plus there's no sound because there was a copyright music track playing so I had to lose the audio to get it viewed on YouTube.

If you click the bottom right hand corner you can go to YouTube or click to view full screen. It's in HD so the quality is OK.

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.
If you want to 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 2017: Selected Artists. This organises the names of the selected artists by country and includes links to their websites (where one can be found).

What's different in the 2017 Exhibition

If I had to sum up the 2017 exhibition in a few words it would be that it's like 2016 - but more so.
  • there's an increasing trend towards paintings getting smaller
  • consequently there seem to be more head orientated portraits than ever before.
  • most paintings are realistic but fewer are photorealistic
  • the celebs are much less well known
  • the models are much more likely to be a self-portrait or close family or friends - with children continuing to be popular subjects. As last year, the choice of subject is much persuasive that the portrait involves observation and painting from life - which is a criteria for selection.
More small paintings - and a lot of wall space unfilled

In the Friends Preview - which is my first opportunity to really view and analyse the exhibition, I did my counts for size as well as type of portrait. and then crunched the numbers.

Below you can view the results.

What sort of portraits get selected?

My "sizing" is a rough approximation based on my initial impression on first looking at a portrait - and knowing already what size the rest of the paintings are.

That's not to say that the "Large" paintings are as "large" as they have been in the past - because I don't think they are.

Medium sized and a larger painting

SIZE No. %
Large 16 31%
Medium 16 31%
Small 12 23%
Tiny 8 15%
52 100%
Group 4 8%
Whole Body 9 17%
Upper Torso  18 35%
Head & shoulders 18 35%
Cropped head 3 6%
52 100%

In terms of SIZE and FORMAT of portrait:
  • Two thirds of the portraits selected are either Large or Medium format. You can see what I mean by those descriptions in the video of the exhibition.
  • Like last year there are a large number of small paintings (38%). It's certainly the case that since the submission went digital

    • the number of international entries have increased
    • but due to the cost of shipping artists tend to keep their entries small.
  • Some of the portraits were so small that I introduced a new format called "Tiny" - for the very smallest portraits. 
  • Interestingly not all artists choose to adopt the conventional "portrait" format with square portraits being popular and "landscape" format not being unusual.
I'm not sure having more smaller portraits is a bad thing - but we are starting to get an awful lot of unfilled wall space.

More smaller paintings

I'm beginning to think that maybe the organisers might start thinking about increasing the number selected - maybe up to (say) 60.  I'm sure people would appreciate seeing more portraits and, after all, it's relatively easy to trim the foreword which few people ever read in the catalogue for the exhibition!

Are larger paintings getting smaller?

Overall, my impression was that even the large paintings have got smaller. You can judge for yourself (as I did) by looking at my videos of previous BP Portrait exhibitions
In terms of how much of their subject they choose to paint:
  • over two thirds of the portraits selected were either upper torso (this can include the hands) or head and shoulders
  • only a quarter of those selected were either the whole body or a group of people
However the portrait which won was BOTH the whole and a group i.e. Benjamin Sullivan's wife and child in their entirety. It's not just a very good portrait - it's also technically much more challenging for the artist than portraits which are limited to the head or head and shoulders. It's a point worth noting for those who want to win a prize!

Selected portraits include:
a group painting of a family visiting for a portrait painting
the back of a person painted on a mirror
Children are unlikely to ever feature as a commission by the NPG
but continue to be popular in this exhibition
I make the point every year (I think!) that this prize involves a commission.

You only have to go upstairs and look at the portraits commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to see that these very often feature a significant proportion of a person. For me, I'm much more likely to notice those demonstrating an ability to paint a real person (including the hands) and/or to paint more than one person. I think it probably works the same way with the selectors.

Bottom line:
  • if you just want the kudos of saying you got selected for this exhibition then a small head may very well be OK. 
  • If you want to win a prize or are even aiming for the top prize, I think you've got to do more and/or you've got to be distinctive in a different way - in terms of your choice of who you paint or how you paint.  (I really must do a prizewinners post to illustrate what I mean!)
Two really striking paintings are the first thing you see in the exhibition

BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2017

UPDATE - This is a compendium of all the posts for 2017
The BP Portrait Award Exhibition will be on display at the following venues:
  • National Portrait Gallery, London all summer. It opens to the public on 22 June and continues until 24 September 2017 (Admission Free)
  • Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery Exeter (4 October – 3 December 2017); 
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (December 2017 – March 2018); 
  • Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (March – June 2018.)

2017 marks the Portrait Award’s 38th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 28th year of sponsorship by BP.

Blogs Posts about Previous BP Portrait Exhibitions

BP Portrait Award 2016

Call for Entries: 
Selected Artists: 

BP Portrait Award 2015

Call for Entries:

    BP Portrait Award 2014

      BP Portrait Award 2013

        BP Portrait Award 2012

          BP Portrait Award 2011

          BP Portrait Award 2010

            BP Portrait Award 2009

            BP Portrait Award 2008 

              BP Portrait Award 2007

              More information

              1 comment:

              1. I got a little dizzy, but thank you so much Katherine!


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