Sunday, December 03, 2017

Review - Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2017

I visited the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters last week.

The exhibition was on Tuesday 28th November by Philip Mould the gallery owner who is also host of the popular TV programme ‘Fake or Fortune?’

View of one half of the Main Gallery
This blog post covers
  • how you can - and cannot - see the art
  • a summary of what I noticed about the show - in terms of both numbers and artwork
  • shout outs for 
    • the artists whose work I liked best in the show
    • those artists who have sold two or more paintings
    • the prizewinners  
  • and finally a listing of past blog reviews of this annual exhibition if you'd like to understand more about this exhibition prior to submitting your paintings next year.
Coastline and beach scenes in the North Gallery
The Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) helped to develop the tradition of oil painting in the UK. Established in 1882, it gained royal status as an art society in 1909.

I RECOMMEND this year's exhibition:

  • it has LOTS of artwork of a high quality by both members and non-members - with a mixed hang across the main and north galleries 
  • a high percentage of the artwork is in oils (but not all). 
  • you can see many and varied ways of applying oil paint to a support to create a picture.  You can also see the extent to which the use of acrylic can mimic oil paint - or not.
  • The exhibition has a huge variety in terms of painting styles, palettes of colour, brushwork and subject matter.  
  • Most of it looks as if was painted using a brush and NOT photographed using a camera. The exhibition also includes some very painterly work.

I'm not quite sure when the ROI started to let people submit work in acrylics but I do wish they'd:
  • either change their name 
  • or stick rigidly to this being an exhibition of oil paintings.
I think it's misleading to do otherwise... It needs to be one or the other.  I was pleased to see the extremely high percentage of the exhibited work is in oils. Hopefully this is an aspect of the society that can be addressed over time.  

It's was VERY interesting to note that ALL the young artists selected for the Young Artist Award ALL painted in oil.

I used to go to the PV nut now tend to choose to see an exhibition in the mid/late afternoon (when it tends to be a bit quieter) just after it has opened. It means I can see the art properly and also get decent photographs of it hanging in the gallery - which is virtually impossible on PV days.

How you can - and cannot - see the art in the exhibition 

Some large paintings in the exhibition

You can see The Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries until Sunday 10th December 2017. The galleries are located in The Mall (near Trafalgar Square), London SW1 - this is a google map showing the entrance. Hours are 10am-5pm daily including weekends, (and it loses at 1pm on the final day).

If you're a fan of ROI member and plein air painter Peter Brown ROI NEAC PS Hon RBA RP (aka Pete the Street) then, from Wednesday 6th December, you can also see Pete's solo exhibition at Messums in Cork Street as well as the ROI exhibition.

Next week, the members of the ROI are available to meet visitors include:
The first work you encounter in the North Galleries
You can see selected works from the exhibition online if you keep scrolling down the page.
  • If you click the TITLE of the painting you can find out more about it and how to buy it - and click again to find out more about the artist
  • You can make an enquiry about buying a painting online
However it's NOT actually possible to see ALL the artwork online - which I think is both a pity and not helpful to overall sales.

Now people are so used to buying artwork online, it's absolutely vital to have a very accessible virtual art exhibition (online) as well as a physical art exhibition (in the gallery) - especially if an art society wants to promote its online sales for all the artwork exhibited.

That means ALL members gearing up to produce good quality digital images - or not having their work online.  (Non members already have to do this as the submission is now based on digital files.)

It would seem that rather a lot of ROI members have not yet done this because, very oddly when I look at the oil paintings in the Mall Galleries own online "Buy Art" gallery, most of the oil paintings seem to be by artists from other art societies - or non members exhibiting in the ROI exhibition!  Which does really seem a bit odd!

A small selection of the paintings I liked

I loved this stunning painting of an apple with a Holbein blue background by Alex Callaway RBSA. A very strong contender for my "Visitors Choice" vote. Alex is a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) and an Associate of the Art Renewal Center (ARC). While highly realistic it's also fantastic at both showing colour and form of the apple and its leaves. The background also reminded me somewhat of Holbein portrait paintings.

Wild Apple II by Alex Callaway

This painting for a "Wow" from me - even before I read the title and realised it's been painted as a memorial to a lady called Ada who was involved with the management of allotments.

Tribute to Ada by Richard Baines FROI
oil £6,000
The painter is Dr Richard Baines who is a past President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and one of only seven Fellows of that Society. He was also a Senior Lecturer in Design History and Academic Leader for Complementary Studies in the School of Fashion Promotion, has a doctorate in Design History and has lectured at the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Wallace Collection and the Museum of London.

There seemed to be a lot more panoramas this year - and a new way of hanging them - as with these by Pete Brown and Natalia Avdeeva.

I think Pete Brown really ought to do a workshop on how to paint really small people - he's an expert!

Panoramic paintings of Edinburgh by Peter Brown
and beaches by Natalia Avdeeva
I want to emphasise that there's also a LOT more work I like in this exhibition. It was a very enjoyable afternoon's viewing....

Exhibition Metrics

It was pleasing to see a good mix of paintings by members and non-members across BOTH galleries - emphasising unity across the exhibition.

This was also reflected in percentages of artwork from members and non-members with the percentages getting close to 60:40 member/non-members.

A mix of subjects, paintings styles and techniques and colour palettes on display within the exhibition
In terms of sales, non-members were way out in front - in terms of numbers and percentage - of which more below.

Below you can find my summary of the metrics which will interest artists submitting paintings to the exhibition.

Numbers of paintings

  • The exhibition has 300 paintings in the Main and North Galleries only. Unlike last year, the exhibition is only in the Main and North Galleries - which surprised me given the popularity of oil painting.
  • These comprise:
    • 271 paintings in the main open exhibition (compared to 269 in 2016) 
    • An additional 29 paintings by young artists aged 35 and under (all non-members) hung in a section devoted to the Winsor & Newton Young Artist Awards - also two more than last year
The section devoted to the Winsor & Newton Young Artist Awards
- includes FIVE OF THE AWARDS!
  • Of these 300 exhibited artworks:
    • 184 (61.3%) artworks were by 47  members (of the 64 total members) and 
    • 116 (38.6%) artworks were by 74 non-members
  • Average number of works exhibited by: 
    • members = 3.9 artworks
    • non-member = 1.5 artworks. While the majority only had one painting in the exhibition, there were also several selected via the open entry with 2, 3 or 4 paintings in the exhibition.  
  • Of the 74 artists from the open entry, 
    • 3 are members of other national societies and 2 are associates (most of which are based at the Mall Galleries). 
    • Leaving 69 artists from the open entry with no affiliation to a national art society.  
    • This also suggests that the ROI is a 'first port of call' in terms of art societies artists want to be a member of.

Sales of paintings

My 'inner accountant' came out and I did a "snapshot" count of the sales - checking the numbers sold by members and non-members after 3 days of the exhibition. This was in part prompted by seeing a LOT of red dots!

Congratulations to the following artists who had all had at least two sales when I visited: Linda Alexander (small still life), Michael John Ashcroft (small landscapes), Lucy McKie (small stillife)Barry Peckham, Maria Rose and Bryan Ryder .

Still life paintings with botanical subjects by Linda Alexander ROI SBA - with red dots
(either side of the centre)
Paintings by Lucy McRie - with red dots
My initial conclusions are:
  • 37  paintings had sold by the end of Thursday of which sales by type of artist equated to:
    • Members: 17 paintings (9% of the total hung by members)
    • Non-members: 20 paintings (17% of the total hung by non-members)
  • work hung in the North Galleries had generated more sales. I always feel this gallery has proportions more like people's homes and hence it's easier to imagine a painting on a wall at home.
I may do another update at the end of the exhibition!

Another view of the first North Gallery
Artwork by non-members tended to be smaller which might account for why more sold in numerical and percentage terms. There's also very clearly an appetite for very realistic paintings of still life involving botanical subjects.

Mezzanine Wall of Small Works in the Main Gallery

Frames PREVENT Sales

In my opinion, one of the reasons why excellent work by members does NOT sell is that it is framed using very old fashioned frames. I've certainly seem members use exactly the same frames for the last c.15 years - however judging by the design, I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if they are exhibiting work in frames they have been using for the last 30-40 years

Some professional artists need to wake up to 'the facts of frames'
  • every frame which does not 'fit' with a contemporary home interior - means a trip to the framers and additional expense for the purchaser. Most factor in the additional cost, time and effort in when considering the price of artwork in an old fashioned frame - and walk on by.  
  • If an artist doesn't want go to the effort of changing frames, then a discounted prize could (should?) be applied to allow for the fact the buyer will need to reframe it.
  • Design and interiors change. 
    • What might have been very appropriate or even fashionable as a frame 20, 30 or 40 years ago is not going to help artwork sell today. 
    • I can see artwork in this exhibition which I think would sell well if framed in a more neutral and contemporary way. Instead it languishes without a red dot in an old fashioned frame.
  • I wrote a blog post two years ago Do frames help to sell art? prompted by the ROI exhibition. Besides highlighting the different type of frames it included an analysis of the types of frames on sold paintings by price range. I'm very inclined to go back at the end of the exhibition and do the same exercise again....
I have a tentative theory that there is something of a correlation between use of digital means to promote art (websites, Facebook, responsive templates etc) and the updating of picture frames.....

ROI Prizes and Awards

The annual exhibition always has a number of prizes and awards n offer and this year is no exception.

Congratulations to the ROI for getting all the images and names of the prizewinners on to their website soon after the PV

This year I've split the awards into cash prizes, art materials prizes and publication prizes.

Two prizewinners in this photo

Monetary Prizes

The Phyllis Roberts Award - £2,000
Lyme Regis Harbour by Tom Stevenson
The Alan Gourley Memorial Award - £1,000
Creative Progression by Adebanji Alad(Facebook: Adebanji Alade Artist)

ROI Awards

The Darlington Crystal Chalice for outstanding service and contribution 
Abdulai, Ebola survivor, Freetown, Sierra Leone 
by Tim Benson (Facebook: Tim Benson Art)

The Le Clerc Fowle Award - 
This is the one I missed! Bill Dean ROI has won for his group of paintings in the exhibition. 

The Stanley Grimm Prize - Two awards of £700, to the painters whose work receive the most votes from visitors to the exhibition will be awarded after the end of the exhibition.

Art Materials (associated) Awards

There are many cash prizes and awards available to win, including:

Winsor & Newton Young Artist Awards (for artists aged 35 or under) -
  • First Prize: £1,000 
  • Second Prize: £600 
  • Third Prize: £400 worth of Winsor & Newton Fine Art Materials
Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award 
(1st Prize £1,000)
The Reading Lesson by Frances Bell (Facebook: Frances Bell Paintings)

Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award - Second Prize:
Falmouth Custom House Quay (oil) by Maria Rose
Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award  - 3rd Prize
Green Kitchen (oil) by Diana Savostaite 

Winsor & Newton Non-Member Award
- £150 worth of Winsor & Newton Fine Art Materials
Bathurst Firewood (oil)by Benjamin Hope

The Menena Joy Schwabe Memorial Award - £250
Bernard by Julia Hawkins (Facebook:  Julia Hawkins)

L. Cornelissen & Son Award
- a contemporary version of a Victorian Oil Painter's equipment
Tom Middleton (oil) by Dorian Radu 
Frank Herring Easel Award - an easel
Grey Skies, Yorkshire by Michael John Ashcroft

Art Publication Prizes

The Artist Magazine Award 
- a feature in The Artist magazine
Christina (oil) by Lucy McKie (on the left)

The Dry Red Press Award
published as a greeting card in the Dry Red Press 'Prize Winners' range,
with royalties from the sale of the cards going to the artist.
Tulips in Bloom by Peter Graham ROI 

Previous Exhibitions

You can find links to my previous reviews of exhibitions below.

Links for oil painters


  1. Fabulous review Katherine and thanks so much. I saw the show yesterday during the ROI paint out and was really quite taken by the standard and the quality. Dorian (winner of the Cornelissen prize) is the unfortunate artist who had his piece stolen during the paint out. I hope the award more than compensates. Lovely review! Thanks

  2. Hello,

    I am the artist who won the Cornelissen & Son Award. I am writing to thank you for another amazingly detailed and very specific review! As Anne Blankson-Hemans said, I have had a painting stolen during a paint out session, which was disappointing really. Fortunately, it was not the piece in the exhibition. However, I hope you enjoyed the exhibition and I hope that our paths cross over again soon. Thank you.

  3. Further to the points about framing, interesting to see that there was only one unframed painting on show:
    Doesn't that seem strange? Surprised that deep edge unframed isn't more popular with the artists.


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