Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Review: Royal Institute of Oil Painters - Annual Exhibition 2023

The Annual Exhibition 2023 of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters continues at the Mall Galleries until 16th December - and this is my review of it.

This review is going to focus on:

  • The overall "look" and content of the exhibition - what I noticed about what had changed
  • Paintings which jumped out at me - in a good way!
  • Observations on framing and pricing
East Gallery + Private View

I've paid two visits to the exhibition. The first to the Private View when it was great to see a lot of artists I've not seen in a very long time. The second was last Friday when I got the chance to actually take photographs of the artwork in the three galleries without huge numbers of people in front of them!

I've loaded my photographs into three albums on my Making A Mark Facebook Page:

Unfortunately, Facebook appears to be suffering from malfunctions this week, as I'm unable to annotate all the images in the West Gallery album (as yet). 

I've tried to include all the various prizewinners - which you can read more about in this Mall Galleries post about Royal Institute of Oil Painters 2023 | Award Winners

This review is late in being published because I'm currently in the process of personal priorities related to dealing with matters related to my late Mother's Estate.

Look and Content

I've looked back at past ROI Exhibitions before making the comments below. As always it was well hung. 

Size of paintings

To me, it seems as if the exhibition lacks the number of large feature paintings - which draw attention and anchor a wall - as it normally has. 

I think the current economic context may have influenced artists to submit smaller work in the hope that it sells.

In doing so, they would be following the very well trodden path that I saw in very many exhibitions post between 2008 and 2010 during the banking crisis. 

Once you know that larger more expensive paintings are simply not selling, there's a considerable incentive to reduce your expenses in terms of shipping and framing and submit the size of works which might suit buyers pocketbooks better.

EXCEPT this then means the exhibition loses impact.

If I may be so bold as to suggest, I'd like to see all member artists sending in at least one large painting and then the rest can be any size they like. Large paintings are there to capture attention and make the viewer appreciate the expertise involved. They also help create a positive impresssion with visitors - so long as the paintings are good.


The paintings also lack colour to some extent. There's a lot of dark / grey / muted / neutral paintings. Looked at one their own - by one artist - this is not an issue. Looked at in a large exhibition, it begins to be noticeable. However I did feel the North Gallery was rather muted this year.

ROI Annual Exhibition 2023 - North Gallery

Take as another example the end wall in the West Gallery - devoted to the theme of Urban Life. 

Quite a subdued neutral wall - only the vegetation stands out!

I came away on the Friday feeling a little wintery and underwhelmed. Which is not to say that there's not a lot of excellent paintings in this exhibition.  

The Paintings which jumped out at me

Given the above comments I've decided to focus on some of the paintings which jumped out at me - in a nice way!

I typically walk around an exhibition about three times. 
  • first time round, I'm just looking at the art and not at the labels (who painted it etc.) or whether it's won a prize - just looking to get a general impression and see what jumps out at me
  • second time round, I'm looking to see if the things which appealed the first time still appeal - and this time I look at the labels and pay particular attention to who painted them
  • third time I'm collecting data on who has sold - and for how much!
So here's my top 10 - in no particular order

That said, I thought this was by far the best painting in the show. I'm not normally a fan of hyperrealistic artwork but there's such a lot to admire in this one. I was really surprised to see that it had not won a prize - particularly given the emerging status of the artist.

I met the artist Pippa Hale-Lynch and got her to pose in front of her painting which I think might well be a self portrait - before suggesting to her that she submit it for the The Portrait Award.  It's the sort of painting which might well be selected.

What I particularly admired about it is 
  • the extremely realistic face and hands at odd angles
  • the amazing milky white water which contrains shadows and reflections and is both opaque and translucent
  • the painting of the skin is amazing - again for the translucent quality of the hands
  • plus the very unusual composition.
She told me how she had painted it twice to the same degree of finish - the first version being done as a grissaille.

Daydream by Pippa Hale-Lynch
poilmon canvas; 135 x 84 cm (135 x 84 cm framed)

Interestingly both Pippa above and Kayoon below are architects!

This next painting won two awards - and sold - making it "a good day in the studio" for Kayoon Anderson. Last year she won the Phyllis Roberts Award and it can only be a matter of time before she becomes a member of the ROI.
Kayoon was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1997. She studied architecture at the University of Cambridge and painting at Siena Art Institute before returning to England to specialise in portraiture at Heatherley School of Art. She currently works as a figurative painter in London. She looks to Italian and Korean art as influences in her painting practice.
What I like about her painting is her very carefully controlled palette and that the layers of colour are not thick and make the most of the pinky brown warm colouration of the ground. It positibely glows! It's also a well considered design plus has an ace portrait of a dog as well as two children? What do they say about never working with children or animals?

Winner of the ROI Emerging Artist Prize and the Art Academy London Award
In the Bath by Kayoon Anderson
Oil on Canvas; 100 x 100 cm

One of the mini themes in the exhibition this year, was the inclusion of paintings of artists studios and their art materials. I'd like to see this being tackled as a major theme in a future exhibition as I find they almost always make for fascinating paintings when done by oil painters.

The one below is of Haidee-Jo Summers' studio and won her The Menena Joy Schwabe Memorial Award. I like the very high vantage point providing an unusual perspective plus the mixed light across the studo from shadow to bright sunlight. Coupled with all the usual gubbins of an oil painter. I'm not in the least bit surprised it was chosen as the image for the PV Invitation.

Winner of The Menena Joy Schwabe Memorial Award
Morning Light in the Studio by Haidee-Jo Summers VPROI RSMA
72 x 77 cm (83 x 88 cm framed)

The next one is one of my favourite paintings in the entire exhibition. Trevor Chamberlain demonstrates admirably well that colour does not have to gaudy or intense to be effective. I much prefer those who capture the subtlety of colour palettes - without becoming so neutral that it becomes boring. The trick is almost always to look for colour in all the shadows.

I like another of his of a scene local to where I live which I know extremely well - but I hated its frame! (see my comments about framing below)

Frost on Goldings Marsh by Trevor Chamberlain RSMA ROI
Oil; 40 x 50 cm (54 x 64 cm framed)

I find I either love or hate Nicholas Verrall's paintings. That's because he is a colourist who can really turn up the dial. I tend to prefer those paintings where's he working with a very controlled pallette and exploring colour in different light - as exemplified below. It's a bit exaggerated but you really can get colours like this in Venice.

His painting works within the same colour palette as Trevor - but a different level of tonal depth.

Venice Backwater by Nicholas Verrall RBA ROI
Oil on board; 34 x 44 cm (50 x 61 cm framed)

What I liked about this next painting was the very unusual composition. Painting people at the top of a roller coaster is one thing. Getting a shot of them from above so you can use the perspective of quite how high up they are adds much needed context and a big surprise!

Richard William Barnett is an American. He's also very obviously an artist who loves complexity and working out unusual compositions - and I do like an artist who stays well clear of doing the obvious!

Screamy Sunday by Richard William Barnett
Oil on panel; 60 x 60 cm (71 x 71 cm framed)

The next one is a bit of a cheat - but I very much liked these three paintings by Brian Ryder. What can I say - they shout "come and look at me" to me in a very nice way. I love the compositions of these flat landscapes and minimal content, the lighting and the unusual palettes. He's just pushing what's natural just far enought but not too far - so each painting makes you look more carefully.

Three landscape paintings by Brian Ryder ROI

Observations on Framing and Pricing


I remember the first time I wrote about framing was after an exhibition like this. Do frames help to sell art? and The reasons why frames for art change over time were both written after my visit to the ROI Annual Exhibition in 2015 (i.e. 8 years ago!!)

I feel the need to reference them again as some people have still not got the message.

That's because there are still far too many overly moulded and chunky frames surrounding artworks.  (Take a look through my albums of photos from the exhibition - see links above - to see what I mean).

Small works on the Mezzanine Wall
- do you see the artwork first or notice the frame first?

My bottom line is that a frame is there to support the art - to make it stand out. The minute you find yourself noticing the frame first, you know it's not doing its job well any more.

It's also particularly important to note that black frames can overpower the art, other artworks nearby and the room it's hung on. That's because it's very DRAMATIC!  Lighter much more neutral frames do not SHOUT "LOOK AT ME" at the viewer.!

Maybe a quote from the second of my posts highlighted above would underline the need to review the nature of the frame used for exhibitions
EXAMPLE: Once upon a time - not too long ago - we used to have huge ugly black boxes sitting in the corner of a sitting room - next to the huge black boxes which contained the stereo system. Today these have been banished from very many homes. People fell over themselves to buy very slim, very large televisions with a minimal frame - to hang on their wall. Plus music is now played by any number of other slimline devices. Hence - if you haven't changed the style of your frames in the last ten years now might be a very good time to take a long hard look at how decoration has changed.
I also notes that more and more artists are 
  • using a well-presented box canvas for their artwork - which is allowed in this exhibition.
  • using frames which are very narrow - although they still provide the strength and stability to take mirror plating for hanging the works - using screws - on the wall.

Bottom line - most older / more provincial artists need to:
  • give serious consideration to a long hard think about 
    • how long they've been using their current frames
    • when they last reviewed what kind of frame they use - and 
    • how decor styles have changed since then
    • whether their frames help or hinder sales.
  • pick up decor magazines from time to time. Those who invest in art also tend to invest on keeping their homes looking good - and pictures of what looks good is very different now compared to 20 years ago.
  • familiarise themselves with the nature of home inhabited by the sort of collector they have
  • try more contemporary framing and test out whether it has a positive impact on sales.


For the most part, by Friday afternoon, there seemed to have been a decent number of sales. 
  • Most sales as of last Friday are following a very familiar pattern of predominantly being under £1,500.
  • However, there are some green shoots! A small number of paintings have sold for more than £2.5K
I am noticing that some painters seem to have adjusted their prices to suit the current context better - sometimes by submitting smaller paintings to the show.

I need to do a catch up on recent sales at FBA Exhibitions and will do that soon - and check the extent to which there is a common trend between the different art societies.

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