Thursday, May 07, 2020

Annual Exhibition 2020 of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

The 2020 Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) opened today at the Mall Galleries - or rather it would have done but for the current lockdown.

Instead of visiting the exhibition I'm going to:
  • show you how to view it online
  • comment on the HUGE number of entries and selection
  • highlight those non-members whose work was selected for the exhibition
  • highlight those artworks I like the best.
A hot day in August by Frances Bell
oil 140cm x 170cm

I've taken to avoiding the Private View of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in recent years for the very simple reason it's always absolutely rammed with members and their guests and Friends of the RP and the Mall Galleries. Negotiating movement across the gallery can take some time!

I can no longer cope with having to remain on my feet for extended periods so now tend to go later on PV Day or the next day.

So today is the day I would have been viewing - and then reviewing - the exhibition - so I'm going to do so anyway! :)

I should strictly speaking be reviewing the BP Portrait Award 2020 Exhibition first since that opened on Tuesday - but there's a reason why I'm not - which I will reveal below.

How to view the 2020 Exhibition and Events

NOT AT THE MALL GALLERIES - it's on the website instead!
You can
I gather the RP is hoping still to be able to hold the exhibition at some point this year and hence no prizewinners have been announced.

The RP Annual Exhibition 2020

Back in January, the RP noted that a record number of entries, 2,493 in all. This reflects an upward trend in works submitted online over the past few years (see below).

I'd like to think this blog has played a small part in highlighting the exhibition to prospective interested artists and generating that upward trend.

However I want to note that the figure is way in excess of the 1,981 entries received by the BP Portrait Award (BPPA). Possibly for the first time?

In addition, as the RP website makes clear......
Unlike other portrait exhibitions, it is rigorously selected by professional portrait painters who themselves have been elected by their peers to the Society. It is one of the world’s most extensive contemporary portrait exhibitions forming a showcase of some 200 works.
So that's the reason why my review of this exhibition comes first:
  • BIGGER entry
  • BIGGER exhibition
  • artworks judged by PROFESSIONAL PORTRAIT PAINTERS - not people with a fairly loose connection to the world of portraiture.  (I'm becoming increasingly critical of the jury of the BP. Other than one well established portrait painter - who's a member of the RP(!) - and a senior curator, the extent of experience of portraiture really underwhelms.)

Non-members selected for exhibition

82 artists who are NOT members of the RP had work selected for the exhibition - and you can find their names below.

I've also noted

  • all those who had more than one painting selected
  • all the ones I remembered were also selected for the BP Portrait Award 2020 - and if both exhibitions had been open to the public you could have enjoyed comparing their different entries! (Do tell me if I've left you out by mistake!)

Every artist named below has at least one portrait selected for exhibition unless otherwise indicated
  • Jennifer Anderson (two works of women of African heritage)
  • Jeremy Andrews
  • Thomas Arthurton (two works) - who has a work in the BPPA 2020
  • Helen Bartholomew
  • Ulrike Belloni
  • Ashley Birch
  • Martin Brooks (3 paintings)
  • Rupert Brooks
  • John Burke
  • Darren Butcher (2 paintings - both have a large number of faces)
  • Steve Caldwell - also has a painting in BPPA2020 
  • George Clark
  • Tomas Clayton
  • Eric Coates
  • Ian Cox
  • Belinda Crozier (2 portraits of a pregnant woman at different stages)
  • Nicholas De Lacy-Brown
  • Helen Davison (2 paintings)
  • Tom Dearden
  • Daisy Denning
  • Davide Di Taranto
  • Mark Draisey
  • Sally Ede-Golightly
  • Mark Entwisle
  • Miriam Escofet
  • Andrew Fitzpatrick
  • Brendan Fitzpatrick
  • Jack Freeman (twp portraits - one in oil and one in charcoal)
  • Suzanne Gibbs
  • Alexander Goudie
  • Paul Harber
  • Naila Hazell
  • Andrew Hitchcock
  • Owain Hunt
  • Ksenia Istomina
  • Paul James
  • Hero Johnson
  • Thom Jordan
  • Jeannie Kinsler
  • Richard Kitson
  • Kathryn Kynoch
  • Svetlana Kornilova
  • Suzon Lagarde - participated in one of the heats of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019
  • Shana Levenson
  • Stephen Leho
  • Shuang Liu - also selected for BPPA 2020
  • Kathryn Lowe
  • Kenny McKendry
  • Elizabeth Meek - a large self portrait by the President of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters
  • Kenny McKendry
  • Eugeny Medvedev
  • Stephanie Mills
  • Sarah Jane Moon
  • Robin L Muller (two portraits)
  • Daniel Munday
  • Nashunmenghe
  • Anthony Oakshett
  • Harriet Pattinson
  • Sergei Pavlenko
  • Laura Quinn Harris - also selected for BPPA 2020
  • Vladimir Presnyakov
  • Sally Roberts
  • Carl Randall
  • Jamie Routley - Also selected for BPPA 2020. I'm always amazed he's not a member. Maybe he hasn't applied?
  • William Rushton
  • Andrea Santi
  • Daniel Sequeira
  • Michael Seymour
  • Nicola Smith
  • Charlotte Sorapure NEAC
  • Dick Smyly
  • David Thomas
  • Yaroslava Tichshenko
  • Bernadett Timko
  • Alex Tzavaras
  • Nneka Uzoigwe
  • Sally Ward
  • Joshua Waterhouse (2 works - an oil painting and a pencil drawing)
  • Isabella Watling
  • Rosalie Watkins
  • Steven Wood
  • Craig Wylie - won BPPA 2008
  • Rugile Zukaite 

Outstanding Portraits

The exhibition displays diversity in terms of both subjects and painting styles. As I've often remarked in the past, many of the portraits by non-members held more appeal than those by members. This is in part because some of the portraits on display are commissions and hence reflect what was asked rather than how the portrait painter might prefer to paint.

I've chosen ten to highlight. These were the ones that made me click the pic on the website to look at the larger image.

Alastair Adams' portrait titled Love Disfigure is outstanding - both in terms of the nature of the subject and the truthful and uncompromising yet respectful way he has painted his subject. Alastair is a fabulous painter of women - and his people always look very 'real'.
(PS Alastair - this is the one you should have entered for the BP!)

Love Disfigure by Alastair Adam
oil, 147 x 105 cm
I'm sorry to be missing a chance to see Frances Bell's portrait of Cressida Dick the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police as I was originally invited to the 'unveiling' at Hendon but couldn't make it.

It's nice to see a portrait which looks neither stuffy nor over-stuffed for an official portrait - she's painted in a normal shirt agaist a map of London! I'm also tickled by the fact I'm taking my daily walk in the big patch of green to the right of the Commissioner's head!

Cressida Dick by Frances Bell RP
oil 100cm x 85cm
Newly appointed member of Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Frances Bell RP, created the oil painting which has taken its place at the Met Police Training School in Hendon, alongside the paintings of 26 former Commissioners.
I highlighted France's portrait of her family above. It made me think of families in lockdown! Plus I'm a big fan of artists who take the trouble to paint group portraits.

It's also worth noting that Frances
It's good to see UK artists sending their portraits across the pond!

I'm a very big fan of Tomas Clayton's portraits.  They are very stylized and a little unsettling - but in my experienced they always grab my gaze from across the room.  They are also impeccably painted.
"A painting of ambiguous emotional messages."
Worlds End Lane by Tomas Clayton
oil 90 x 80cm

I looked at this portrait and felt sure I'd seen it before. It took ages before I realised that Suzanne Gibbs wrote to me back in February 2020 and asked me for an honest assessment of it. There were many things I liked a lot and some things I wasn't such a big fan of (like the background) - but it's a clever portrait - read her explanation below - particularly the last line. Read more

Facing It by Suzanne Gibbs
oil and human hair - 62cm x 94cm
Sally’s baldness is juxtaposed with decoration, a colourful scarf, and make up, accentuating her eyes, where her eyebrows and eyelashes once were. Her wig made up of the hair she has lost, now sits to the side of her, framed by a canvas of vibrancy, positivity and abstraction. The wig is there to hide her baldness, hide the cancer, but why? To save causing public discomfort. Baldness on a woman is like writing Cancer on your forehead. It's looking back at you.
I'm trying to remember whether I've ever seen a normal size portrait by Elizabeth Meek MBE, HPRMS, PPSWA, FRSA. She's been painting portraits for 40 years and is both very experienced and an expert at her chosen profession - but most (all?) of the paintings I have seen previously have been miniatures. She is Honorary President of the Royal Miniature Society, Past President of the Society of Women Artists, Past Patron of the Society of Limners and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts - and we've had many a chat over the years!

Self Portrait by Elizabeth Meek
oil. 32cm x 50cm
"Painting a self portrait is always a challenge but the bonus is that the sitter is obviously always available. My intention was to portray myself in the three different poses in a relaxed mode whilst reluctantly accepting the inevitable aging process by splitting the work in two colours. i.e. 'grey matter'.
I paint using a limited palette of colours."

Sarah Jane Moon's portraits are big and bold and aligned to her interest in gender issues. She comes from New Zealand and is a painter and printmaker who specialises in portraiture and figurative painting and explores identity, sexuality and gender presentation.
She was selected for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition in both 2019 and 2020.

As I've said before, I am emphatically "for" any portrait painter who
  • paints the whole figure. more or less life size
  • paints more than one figure on a painting. 
There's not a lot of them and I take every chance to celebrate those who do!

Nicole and Kai by Sarah Jane Moon
Oil, 115 x 94 cm
"A portrait of two wonderfully creative women who live in Amsterdam and are friends of mine through the queer community."
Melissa Scott-Miller is essentially an urban landscape painter. However she also paints portraits and is a member of the RP.  Her paintings from her windows and balcony overlooking Islington back gardens are a regular feature of exhibitions in London - and I love them. I particularly like that she and her family and the family dog feature in them on a regular basis but not in any sort of showy way.  It always seems to me that they help ground the painting and provide a sense of perspective - in more ways than one.

PS I'd love to see an exhibition some time of the gardens through the seasons with the children at different ages.

The artist painting with family on an Islington roof terrace by Melissa Scott Miller Oil, RP, NEAC, RBA
Oil, 120 x 100 cm, £7,000
Dick Smyly's portrait of the Earl of Aboyne just made me smile. It's such a full-on "doing one for the family heritage" portrait.
The Earl of Aboyne by Dick Smyly
Oil, 230 x 143 cm
"This is a portrait of the Earl of Aboyne. He wanted a portrait for his family collection that would both add to it and embellish it. He is wearing full highland dress as future head of Clan Gordon. It was partly influenced by a Pompey Batoni portrait of a Gordon forebear. He is standing amongst some bits of masonry as a nod to his profession as a builder and has the plans for the new extension he is building on to his family castle. There is a mouse by his feet in reference to his wife's name. His mongrel Bolly sits beside him. The grapes on the urn allude to his love of a good party."
I first came across Toby Wiggins when he won the BP Travel Award 2006 and then exhibited some impeccable pencil drawings of people he had met on his travels during 4 weeks travelling around Wessex in a 1972 Camper van making portraits of people who worked the land. One of the very best exhibitions of portraiture I've ever seen. I'd love to see it again....
He then went on to win Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize in 2009 and we did an interview.

....and so it's wonderful to see he's moved on to babies and one baby in particular.  He still does absolutely marvellous drawings.
Ezra at 4 months by Toby Wiggins RP
black chalk 90 x 70cm
"Babies are in constant motion while awake it seems, but I wanted to at least try to draw this new life in all his alert wakefulness. An impossible task I supposed, but as I watched him, I began to notice recurring patterns of movement and the same shapes in his posture as he wriggled, the same unwitting gestures with his hands.

Every morning for 5 to 10 minutes, while he was relatively relaxed in his chair, I would get a few lines down. To my surprise after about two weeks this drawing emerged.

I do hope we get to see this exhibition properly - later in 2020

The Last 11 Years: Past Annual Exhibitions (2009-2019)

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