Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Shortlist for The Portrait Award 2024

The Portrait Award 2024 at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG)in London received 1,647 entries from 62 countries.  

This is the latest 'edition' of this very prestigious art competition's history at the NPG which dates back to 1980. During that time it has had over 40,000 entries from more than 100 countries and the exhibition has been seen by over 6 million people.

That said, having looked back at some of my previous posts (a number of which have focused on the numbers) there have been fewer entries this year. However, I think that's hardly surprising for an art competition attempting a relaunch with a new name after a three year break (due to the three year refurbishment of the NPG)!

Given the length of time since the last Portrait Award, this post covers:
  • What is The Portrait Award? - a brief history plus a reference to past sponsors, past and past winners and their commissions
  • The Portrait Awards 2024 - for the latest version of this very popular and prestigious portrait competition
  • The Shortlisted Artists - who they are and what the shortlisted portraits look like
  • The Judges - and how these have changed over the years....
  • The Exhibition - dates and access and future blog posts!
The Portrait Award 2024: Shortlisted Portraits
- see more below

What is "The Portrait Award"?

If you're wondering exactly which competition this is it's important to know that the sponsorship has changed.

It is now called, as from 2023/24 "The Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award" i.e. the sponsorship changed to being an international law firm. (see my post NEW! Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 REPLACES BP Portrait Award (November 21, 2023)

Previous Sponsors

The award has had three sponsors to date:
  • Imperial Tobacco (1980-82) - this was a competition which was set up with the specific aim of encouraging more young painters to take up portraiture. 
  • John Player & Sons (1983-89) - all entrants had to be under 40 and the entries had to be painted in oils or acrylic from life. 
  • BP (1990-2020) - the under 40 age group requirement was dropped in 2007. Winners included: James Lloyd, Stuart Pearson Wright, Benjamin Sullivan and Miriam Escofet
  • after which the NPG was closed for three years for substantial refurbishment - reopening last summer.
which I covered in Winners of the National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Award + Commissions (January 17th 2023) which LISTS:
  • ALL the artists who have ever won the Portrait Award organised by the National Portrait Gallery in London
  • PLUS a link to ALL the commissions offered as part of their First Prize.
Each of these might be regarded as seeking to improve both brand recognition and reputation by sponsoring prestigious art institutions and awards. It's a fact of life everywhere you go. However, the nature of the sponsorship triggered lots of protests in latter years - including the refusal of prizes.
From my practical perspective, "short and snappy" is a requirement for the title of a competition which is referenced a lot.  (eg Australia has "The Archibald"). I cannot even remember all the names of the new sponsor (I kid you not!), let alone which order they come in so, as previously indicated, I am just going to call it "The Portrait Award" or "The Herbert". 

The Portrait Awards 2024

The new Portraits Awards are reduced by one - there is now no third prize
  • First Prize: £35,000 The prizewinning portrait will need to be retained by the Gallery for up to six months after the tour of the exhibition so that it can be displayed at the National Portrait Gallery (please note this is at the Gallery’s discretion). 
  • Second Prize: £12,000 Third Prize: £10,000 
  • Young Artist Award: £9,000 All selected artists aged between 18 and 30 will automatically be considered for both the Young Artist Award and the Portrait Award, but an individual cannot win both.  
  • To be eligible for the Young Artist Award, artists must be 30 years of age or under as of 1 January 2023.

The Shortlisted Artists

The major change this year - with the new Portrait Award - is that only three artists have been shortlisted

Hitherto it has always been four - for the First, Second and Third places and the Young Artist Award - but it appears that the Third Prize has been ditched. Also no sign of a Travel Award...

Three artists have been shortlisted for the prestigious Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024.
  • Zizi (2023) by Isabella Watling
  • Jacqueline with Still Life (2020) by Antony Williams
  • Lying (2020) by Catherine Chambers
So we have:
  • two women and one man
  • two are in their early 30s and one is in his 50s (my guess - since their ages have unusually not been listed)
  • one very large painting and two paintings of a very similar size
  • two portraits painted in 2020 - possibly for the last exhibition - which never happened?
  • one Portrait Award stalwart, one by an artist who has been selected before and one by an artist selected for the first time.
I'm going to use my standard profile analysis for the information below - which I think other artists find helpful in seeing who gets selected

This is derived from the press release, their websites and what I know of the artists. I'll going to add in some very pertinent age information which is relevant to who wins what.

Zizi (2023) by Isabella Watling

by Isabella Watling
oil on canvas
2205mm x 2145mm (86 inches x 84 inches)???

NOTE: The dimensions make absolutely no sense to me in terms of the image provided. The dimensions suggest almost square whereas this is a very vertical portrait - in portrait format. Her website also indicates she likes to do sightsize and very tall portrait format paintings. So I think maybe somebody has got something wrong on the dimensions.

I think Isabella Watling is going to win Second Prize. However she has produced a VERY large portrait painting - which can sometimes influence Judges.

The main characteristic of Isabella's portrait paintings is that she paints "sight-size" and in a traditional manner. She reminds me a lot of Jamie Coreth.
  • Age: born 1990 - age 34
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Artist
  • Current home: London
  • Art Education: Charles H Cecil Studios in Florence
  • Previous appearances in this award: 2012, 2014
  • Website: https://www.isabellawatling.com/
  • Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100024879320856
  • Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/isabellawatling/
  • Memberships: none
  • Exhibitions: regular exhibitor latterly at the Annual Exhibitions of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2016, 2020, 2021, 2022)
  • Previous Awards: 
    • 5th place at the Portrait Society of America's Annual International Portrait Prize
  • Title / Media: Zizi - oil on canvas
  • Subject: Zizi is a portrait of the artist's friend, painted while the friend was finishing a Masters Degree in Textiles. She would paint the dress on a mannequin inbetween sittings with the friend.
Isabella seems to me to be a "coming artist". She is being recognised on a regular basis for the quality of her portraiture and I wouldn't be surprised to see her selected on a regular basis in the future for this Award - should she apply.

As Ben Sullivan once said to me the benefit of getting selected but NOT winning for 11 times was that it was the most marvellous marketing!

Jacqueline with Still Life (2020) by Antony Williams

Jacqueline with Still Life (2020)
by Antony Williams

Egg Tempera on wooden board;
1222cm x 668cm (48 inches x 26 inches)

I've been viewing egg tempera paintings and portraits by Antony Williams probably as I've been writing this blog. That's because 
  • he has been exhibiting with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters since 1995 - where he was elected a member in 1996. He's also been exhibiting his artwork for the last 30 years.
  • He's also been selected for the BP Portrait Award on a very regular basis 
  • Plus he's also won a number of major awards over the years for portrait painting and portrait drawing
  • In terms of commissions 
    • He's painted the Queen - see my blog post Painting the Queen in which his portrait is featured
    • the National Portrait Gallery commissioned him to paint a portrait of Amartya Sen for the National Portrait Gallery Collection.
    • plus a LOT of other people and is in collections all over the world.
After Ben Sullivan finally won the BP Portrait Award in 2017 (after being selected 12 times!), Antony became the last of "the regulars" who has been not yet won this Award. It's certainly not uncommon for a previous prizewinner to eventually win first prize - and Antony won 3rd Prize back in 2017

Antony Williams - 3rd prizewinner in 2017

Here's his profile
  • Age: mid 50s (that's a guess)
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Artist
  • Current home: ?
  • Art Education: Farnham College of Art and Portsmouth University.
  • Previous appearances in this award: 1995, 1998, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 (he won 3rd Prize in 2017)
  • Websitehttps://antony-williams.com
  • Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/antony.williams.7393
  • Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/antonywilliams1410/
  • Memberships: Royal Society of Portrait Painters (since 1996); New English Art Club (since 2007)
  • Previous Awards: amongst others he has won 
    • Winner of the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2012 £15,000 and a Gold Medal (although this was a still life - which included the fan in this portrait selected for this award! Maybe it's his lucky fan?)
    • Ondaatje Prize 2012 £10,000 - with an absolutely stunning portrait of the Rt. Hon Margaret Beckett MP
    • Prince of Wales’s Award for Portrait Drawing 2014
    • Changing Faces Prize 2010
    • Discerning Eye Award for Still Life1998
    • Ondaatje Prize 1995 - which I'm guessing helped a lot with him being elected to membership of the RSPP in 1996!
    • he was also awarded 3rd Prize at the BP Portrait Award in 2018
  • Title / Media: Jacqueline with Still Life / egg tempera
  • Subject: The model in the portrait is one who has modelled for Antony for very many years and she too has also made a previous appearance in a Portrait Award exhibition! The portrait combines his twin interests of painting people and still life - and includes a fan which has previously won a top prize and items from his studio which contrive to create a narrative with the model.
In my view, Antony does brilliant portraits of people - except for one aspect. In my opinion, they almost always look serious or slightly downcast and very rarely exude any jois de vivre. Which is not to say I ever expect them to be smiling - but I'd rather like it if they looked me straight in the eye and made a connection. Like the really wonderful portrait of Margaret Beckett which won him the Ondaatje. 

Bottom line Antony Williams paints in a very unique way - in egg tempera - and is a class act! 

If he doesn't win the award this year, I shall be very surprised.

Lying (2020) by Catherine Chambers

I'm going to take a punt and say this is the portrait which means Catherine Chambers will be awarded Young Portrait Artist of the Year. That's basically on the basis the other two are ineligible for this award!

by Catherine Chambers
oil on canvas
765 x 1130mm (30 inches x 44inches)

I've seen a portrait by her before - at the RBA Rising Star exhibition (see my post RBA Rising Stars at the ROSL and three prizewinners!
  • Age: early 30s
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Artist
  • Current home: London
  • Art Education: 
    • 2012 2:1 (BA) Hons Drawing and Applied Arts, University of the West of England
    • 2008 BTEC Diploma Art and Design, Amersham College
  • Previous appearances in this award: None - she has been selected for the first time
  • Website: https://www.catherinechambers.co.uk/
  • Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CatherineChambersArtist
  • Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cchambersart/
  • Memberships: None
  • Previous Awards: None indicated
  • Title / Media: Lying - oil on canvas
  • Subject: The portrait is of a friend at home in Ethiopia, seemingly drifting off to sleep while fully clothed and wearing his beloved Arsenal shirt

The Judges

Entries were submitted anonymously and judged by a panel, which included 
In other words, they have dropped the custom of inviting the previous competition's winner to be one of the Judges. They've even dropped what I would consider a much more sensible notion of involving one of the pool of previous winners which include some now very celebrated names in portraiture.

Instead they've covered all the angles of the current culture emphasis to so much of contemporary art. There's a lot of code in that sentence.

"Included" is also an odd word to use. It suggests that others were also involved but are not named. I'm wondering if the screening to get to a longlist was done by others within the NPG so that the people invited to be Judges didn't have to look at some of the predictably awful submissions. 

That's as in looking at 1,647 entries in real time - assuming you give them a minute each -  means without meal or comfort breaks - 
  • this takes 27.45 hours. 
  • Or 4 days of normal working hours. 
Of course it was different, when everybody had to ship their portrait to the NPG and then every Judge had to look at every submission as it was presented by staff.

So that either means:
  • EITHER some entries were looked at for a few seconds - and believe me, having been a Judge - that is in reality what happens
  • OR some other people were involved in getting the entries down to a long list.
  • OR all the Judges looked at all the long list online - in whatever time they deemed appropriate - and then a longlist was derived from a consensus of their views and they reviewed them again in person and as a panel.
I really don't mind how they do it, I just wish that organisations in this digital world - which makes it much easier to submit work - would be honest about what really happens in terms of judging

The Exhibition's Return to the National Portrait Gallery

As usual I'll be doing two posts in July:
  • one which highlights who won the Portrait Award - and the other prizes (following the prize ceremony on the evening of 9th July)
  • a review of the entire exhibition - with pics of the artists with their paintings :) (following the press preview on the 10th July)
The Portrait Award Exhibition will then 
  • open to the public at the National Portrait Gallery on 11 July and 
  • continue to until 27 October 2024. 
Entry to the exhibition is free. 

The Portrait Award 2024: Reference

These are my two previous posts about this year's Portrait Award.

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