Monday, October 22, 2018

The RP's top five portrait artists 2018

Want to know which portrait painters have attracted the most commission enquiries in 2018?

The Commissions Consultant at the Mall Galleries - who works with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (aka RP) - recently published her annual post about the portrait artists attracting the most enquiries about commissions during the annual exhibition (and - but I'm guessing - during the course of the year).

I also took a look back at the artists listed between 2015 and 2018.

It's interesting to see how favourites have changed (and not) over time because it reveals:
  • which portrait painters are perennial favourites
  • how a higher profile for portraiture - or change in subject matter / style - can affect the rankings
  • why websites matter
In turn, this provides information for those interested in portrait painting as to the preferences of the most important people i.e. the clients with the money who can afford to commission a painting for what will be a not insignificant amount of money.

So - first the rankings and then my commentary on what I think this tells you.

Plus something important to know for those wanting to place a commission - at the end!

Top Portrait Artists in 2018

see and my review of the RP annual exhibition in 2018 - Review: Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition - Unstuffed!
The latter includes the heading Very few stuffed shirts and lots more women! 
The fuddy duddy factor was seriously reduced!

A Price Guide for Commission fees is listed below for each artist - as listed on the RP website. These always exclude expenses such as frame and the artist's travel and accommodation for sittings.
Commissions start at £8,000 for a 20×16 inches portrait in oils.
Former President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Alastair exhibited three portraits of eminent women at this year’s exhibition. 
Review: Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition - Unstuffed!

Professor Julia Black, Interim Director of the London School of Economics 2016 - 2017,
and Pro-Director for Research
Alastair Adams PPRP
Oil, 134 x 85 cm, NFS
He generated the most enquiries in the year in which a portrait of his was also selected for the BP Portrait Exhibition.  He became a member of the RP in 2002 and Hon Treasurer 2005. In 2008 was made President, the youngest in the Society’s history. In 2011, Alastair was also commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, to paint Tony Blair for their permanent collection. I suspect his three paintings of women of importance in the annual RP exhibition also contributed to his success with queries this year. I particularly liked his portrait of Professor Julia Black of the LSE - and I'm thinking a lot of other women would have done likewise. He also has a very accessible website with nice large images of his portraits.

I do wonder whether his name coming up first in the RP's lists of portrait painters accepting commissions also makes a difference....

Paul Brason RP (
Commissions start at £7,500 for a 12" x 8" portrait in oil.

Brason is a perennial favourite - and he's the ONLY one to be identified as a top five portrait artist in the last three years. He was also a a finalist in The National Portrait Gallery’s Annual Portrait Awards from 1980 to 1993. Do look at his impeccable drawings as well as his paintings! He is an excellent draughtsman and master of tone and colour such that he looks like he's painting very accurately whereas he actually simplifies quite a lot but represents what he paints very well. (Check out his paintings of garlic to see what I mean). He also keeps backgrounds simple, plain and unfussy. His subjects look animated rather than stuffed shirts. His self portrait suggests that we need to look to Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) for inspiration and influence on his style. Overall I can well understand why he's very popular amongst those wanting to commission a portrait.
Paul’s commissions have included HRH Prince Philip, Earl Spencer, Sir Roy Strong and may notable figures from the Arts and Academia.
PS I also LOVE his drawings of children!

David Cobley RP NEAC
Commissions start at 20 x 16 inches £8,500 for a single portrait in oil.

Swifts Forever
David Cobley RP NEAC

Oil, 104 x 142 cm, NFS
Elected to the RP in 1997.Two portraits in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. He's been selected for various prestigious art competitions and won a number of awards. In career terms he morphed from being an illustrator into painting portraits on commission - and other paintings (figurative/still lives/interiors). His portraits vary quite a bit in terms of perspective and palette and - I'm guessing - he likes to change the nature of the portrait for the individual who is being painting

Commissions for single portrait in oil start at 20 x 16 inches £6,000

Vice President of the RP (2002-2008). Well known for being one of the few who paint families - painting her sitters in their homes and also painting children and family dogs - with one dog being included for free! (It's always struck me that liking dogs or cats and being able to paint family pets is a pretty useful asset for a professional portrait painter!) She has also painted royalty and painted a number of commissions for various schools and colleges.  She also paints interiors of homes.  Her paintings has a very clear painterly style which - I'm guessing - people will either love (or not).

The de Laszlo Family
Susan Ryder RP NEAC
Oil, 111 x 127, NFS

Commission for a single portrait in oil starts at 20 x 16 inches £8,000. 

His Self Portrait entry was used to advertise the 1998 BP Portrait Award which helped to establish his reputation as a portrait painter. Elected a member of the RP in 2016. Has painted over 100 commissioned portraits for corporate and private clients.  Strong on suit, shirt and tie portraits. his corporate clients tend to be academic institutions of one form or another. Won the Changing Faces Prize in 2012 for a particularly effective portrait of a young girl with an obvious facial disfigurement. It was both frank and respectful - and I thought it was excellent.

NOTE: Mark Roscoe uses a Flash website. While a popular format some years ago, most browsers have moved away from Flash as a standard and Apple has never liked it which means it's unlikely that the website will be viewed by many using Apple devices. It's a point worth noting by anybody who is using Flash for their website. The lack of a specific URL for individual portraits also means it's impossible to share a portrait you particularly like.

Top Portrait Painters 2017

Paul Brason - see above
Commission for a single portrait in oil starts at 20 x 16 inches £7,000

Born in Russia in 1956 but now lives and works in the UK. Member of the Royal Institute if Oil painters (ROI) and the Pastel Society (PS) and elected to the RP in 2011. Latterly he has only been exhibiting with the RP.  Multiple membership means Gridnev's portraits get an outing more than once a year at the Mall Galleries. When viewing his portraits, I sometimes find myself looking at the length of the limbs. I really don't like his website which is awkward to use and requires me to tilt my head to read the section headings.

Commissions for a single portrait 20 x 16 inches from £10,000

He lives in mid-Wales and earn his living as a portrait painter. He splits his paintings on his website between commissioned portraits and other paintings - which makes for a very useful distinction for clients looking to see what he does. Produces particularly nice drawings.  Also produces an awful lot of what I called "suit tie and stuffed shirt" portraits - notably for academic institutions ("suit tie and stuffed academic gown" portraits). However his portrait of the head of the late Charles Kennedy is particularly good. One of the more expensive portrait painters - or maybe his fees increased after a good run of commissions in 2017? His website contains a long and involved story of  how he started out as a graphic designer for the music industry and what he did before art and how he became a portrait painter - and he confesses to being a perfectionist with no academic training in portraiture.

Harriet Pattinson
Commissions - no information

Became a top commissioned artist as a result of the RP exhibition while exhibiting for the first time and without any extensive background in portraiture. Spent three and a half years training at Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy, which specialises in portraiture from life. Most of her portraits are classical portraits of young people (i.e. no stuffed shirts). No information about either commission process or price guide on her website - which is a mistake in my opinion.

David Cobley - see above

Andrew Festing PPRP MBE

Commissions start at £4,000 for a 20 x 16 inches in oil

Took up full time portrait painting in 1981 after working at Sotheby’s from 1969 - becoming head of the British Pictures Department from 1977-1981, where he became Sotheby’s chief expert for British Pictures, with and extensive knowledge of portrait painting over the last 400 years. Elected a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) in 1989 and was President from 2002-2008. Has painted members of the Royal Family - including the Queen - on numerous occasions. Also happy to produce portraits of groups of people - something not many portrait painters do (or demonstrate they can do).

Top Portrait Painters 2016


Paul Brason - see above
Simon Davis VPRP RBSA

Current Vice President of the RP. His career has been largely in graphic designer and illustration working with comic-strip and other publishers and earned himself a Wikipedia entry. He has also storyboarded music videos and TV ads. He works in Oils and gouache using a square brush technique.
The disciplines of my comic-strip work, with the need for narrative and careful composition, perhaps complements my oil painting and makes me approach a portrait in a more dynamic and economical way.
He is the only portrait painter I know who uses Instagram rather than a website!  Interestingly a quick look at his Instagram account gives you a much better appreciation of the portraits he produces and the way he works than many other portrait painters websites. Goodness only knows how people are supposed to know how to commission him....

Valeriy Gridnev 
- see above

Stephanie Kullberg - won the De Laszlo Foundation Award for the best work in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ exhibition by an artist under the age of 35 in 2016 - despite having submitted her work via the open entry.  She paints using a very limited palette. 

born in London in 1990 and lives and works in London. Trained at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence where she returns periodically to teach portrait and figure painting. She's had two striking and memorable portraits selected for the BP Portrait in 2012 and 2014.

Top Portrait Painters 2015

I covered these in my 2015 blog post Top 10 portrait painters - and a commissions checklist

Phoebe Dickinson (NOT a member of the RP)
No price guides or other info. provided

In 2013 she was selected to appear on the Sky Arts programme ‘Portrait artist of the year’. Phoebe’s portrait for the Cholmonderley children at Houghton Hall was chosen for the BP Portrait Award 2018 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

Robbie Wraith RP
No price guides provided

Works from life and needs a minimum of 10 sittings. He's had 33 one-man exhibitions in Britain, Europe, China and the USA. Has work in the collection of HM The Queen as well as more than 40 pictures in the private collection of HRH The Prince of Wales, and also in the Royal Collection Windsor, The Vatican, Chatsworth, The National Trust, and numerous other prestigious clients.

Keith Breeden RP
Commissions start at £10,000 for 20 x 16 inches single portrait

born in 1956. Raised in Cheshire. Now lives with his wife & children in Mid Wales. Spent 15 years working as a graphic designer, mostly in the music industry.
Commissioned portraits - in different media - from £15,000 for 40cm x 40cm

Won 2nd Prize in BP Portrait in 2002 and the de Lazlo Award for Young Artists at the RH exhibition 2004. He spent time as a war artist in Afghanistan, producing as a result a large-scale group portrait of international NATO generals. I'm guessing once you've gained access to the military there's a certain amount of repeat business...

Frances Bell Assoc RP SWA
(In 2018) provides guide prices for a straightforward oil portrait on a simple background
  • 24 x 20 inches £4,250
  • 36 x 28 inches £7,235
  • 40 x 30 inches £8,085
  • 50 x 40 inches £11,700
Frances was not a full member of the RP at the time of achieving this rating. She became a full member in 2018. She also appeared in the Sky Arts Portrait Painter of the Year in 2018 (filmed in 2017).  Frances has participated in many exhibitions including The Not the Turner Prize exhibition, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Society of Women Artists, the BP Portrait Award, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Marine Artists and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition, where she has shown from 2005.

The RP commented when announcing her full membership of the RP as follows

Frances Bell is a regular standout exhibitor at FBA exhibitions, and has received numerous prizes such as the De Laszlo Foundation Award, the Winsor and Newton Young Artist Award, the Barbara Tate Award, the Artist Editor’s Choice Award, and the Sheffield University Portrait of a Woman Award.

Paul Brason RP - see above

His works in the exhibition this year included two wonderful drawings of Mary Rees-Mogg and Eleanora and Sybilla and I'm guessing that these possibly prompted a lot of the enquiries

Anthony Connolly RP
No info re. commissions on his website but a detailed price guide for a number of different sizes of portrait on the RP website

Trained at Goldsmith’s College. Lives with his family in Wiltshire and travels to portraits. His book ‘Portrait Painting’ was published by the Crowood Press in July 2011. He draws - and etches - beautifully (finalist -The ING Drawing Bursary 2015 and before this twice won the The Prince of Wales Award for Portrait Drawing)

David Cobley - see above 

Valeriy Gridnev - see above 

Toby Wiggins RP
Provides price guides for several sizes of portraits of a single person and drawings on the RP website (but not on his own website)

Studied at the Royal Academy Schools; Has exhibited widely. Elected to RP in 2006. Won the Prince of Wales Drawing Award in 2005 and 2013, the Changing Faces Prize in 2006 and the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize for figurative painting in 2009. He has been teaching drawing at the Arts University Bournemouth since 2004.

What does this say about how and why people choose portrait painters?

Prizes make a difference

Like anything else, when laying out a lot of money for an expensive item, you like to be reassured that others have also looked at this artist and found him or her credible. 

Hence getting selected for prestigious art competitions is important on your background information / CV. Winning prizes is even better!

Websites make a difference

What you say about yourself and show in terms of work influences people. Those who arrange commissions also make sure that each profile on the RP website has a goodly collection of portraits to look at. However you often get bigger and better images to look at on the artist's website - and I know I'd want to see the biggest pic possible if I was wanting to commission an artist and was unable to see his portraits in person.

If you take a look at the different websites you'll see the extent to which the website has been designed with the potential commissioning client in mind/

Precedent matters

If you have a clear preference for painting particular people whether that's families or Generals, then chances are that's what you're going to get asked to do.

What's particularly interesting in 2018 is that the immediate Past president of the RP chose to paint and exhibit three portraits of women of importance. What could have looked like a standard stuffed shirt portrait - but was anything but. If I was a woman wanting my portrait painted Id' be looking long and hard in Alastair's direction.....

If you want to commission a portrait painter

Note that the website of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters provides a handy overview of those artists who specialise in different types of portraits - as listed below.

You can also differentiate by the type of media e.g.Acrylic; Egg Tempera; Pastel; Watercolour; Drawing; and Oil
It's fascinating to see how fast one arrives at a conclusion as to who should make a shortlist after reviewing all the images side by side!

PS I was more than a little surprised to see that some of the lists still included a recently deceased member. Members who die are no longer available for commissions and need to be removed promptly!

and finally - a suggested commissions checklists for portrait artists

I'm currently working on a new Commissions page for my Art Business Info for Artists website.

Here's my suggested checklist for all artists undertaking commissions.
Does your personal website or agent:
  • use your name for the URL?
  • indicate your art education?
  • describe how you work and your preferred approach to commissions?
  • list people who have sat for commissions (if "Names")?
  • say which media you work in for commissions - and include examples on your website for:
    • all such media and 
    • typical sizes 
  • commission options offered (eg head; head and torso; with/without hands etc)
  • provide images (with size of work) which are big enough for a prospective client to decided whether or not he or she likes your work (and do check out what size others provide!)
  • provide indicative fees for size and type of media?
  • state what your fee includes and excludes?


I've previously written about top portrait painters and how these are selected 

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