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BP and the National Portrait Gallery

BP is the most enduring corporate supporter of the National Portrait Gallery and 2019 is a very special year. It marks the 30th year of BP's sponsorship of the Gallery's annual BP Portrait Award – the world's most prestigious competition of its kind aimed at encouraging artists to develop portraiture in their work

The BP Portrait Award

Promoting the very best in contemporary portrait painting, the BP Portrait Award is the unmissable highlight of the annual arts calendar. Over the years it has attracted over 40,000 entries from more than 100 countries, launched the careers of many highly successful portrait artists and been seen for free by over 6 million people. In 2016 we announced a further renewal of our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery until 2022 – ensuring that many more people will have access to the best of the UK's culture well in to the future.


The total prize money increased to £74,000 in 2018. This makes the first prize worth £35,000 – one of the largest for any global arts competition. The winner also receives, at the Gallery's discretion, a commission worth £7,000 (agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist). The second prize winner receives £12,000 and a third prize of £10,000 is also awarded. The BP Young Artist Award, with a prize of £9,000 goes to one selected artist aged between 18 and 30. The BP Travel Award, which allows an artist to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture, is £8,000.


BP Portrait Award 2019 

The prestigious first prize went to Brighton based artist, Charlie Schaffer for Imara in her Winter Coat, a portrait of his close friend an English Literature student who he met after moving permanently to Brighton. The judges admired the mannerist style of this portrait, which has a strong sense of a living presence as well as the skilful depiction of a combination of several different textures including faux-fur, hair and skin all of which result in an image that is traditional and contemporary too.

Sittings for the portrait took place over four months, with Imara posing in her warmest winter coat to withstand the studio's cold conditions. Schaffer set out to paint only Imara's face but added the coat after being inspired by Titian's Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro in London's National Gallery. Born in London, Schaffer studied at Central Saint Martins before graduating with a degree in Fine Art from the University of Brighton in 2014. 

Imara in her Winter Coat © Charlie Schaffer; The Crown © Carl-Martin Sandvold; Quo Vardis? © Massimiliano Pironti; Sophie and Carla © Emma Hopkins

The second prize went to Norwegian painter, Carl-Martin Sandvold, for his self-portrait, The Crown. The judges were particularly impressed by the assured handling of paint and his keen observation, creating a portrait that made a memorable impression which lingered in the mind.


Sandvold made urban street art during his teenage years, then trained in Norway, Florence and New York. His studio is located on the site of Edvard Munch's former estate on the outskirts of Oslo.

The third prize went to Italian artist, Massimiliano Pironti, for Quo Vadis?, a portrait of his maternal grandmother, Vincenza, a former miller and factory worker now aged ninety-five. The judges were captivated by the excellent depiction of the subject, in particular her hands which contrast with the surrounding textures including rubber, tiles and curtains.


Born in Colleferro, south of Rome, Pironti taught himself oil painting as a teenager before attending art school where he focused on portraiture. He is also a professional dancer, currently living in Germany where he has been appearing in a long-running production of the Disney musical Tarzan.

BP Young Artist Award


The BP Young Artist Award for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 was won by 30 year-old Brighton based artist Emma Hopkins for Sophie and Carla, a portrait that depicts the photographer Sophie Mayanne and her pet dog. The judges liked the way negative space had been used in the portrait, and how the artist had refreshed the traditional depiction of the nude through an interesting mutual gaze between artist and sitter.


BP Travel Award 2019

The winner of this prize to enable artists to work in a different environment on a project related to portraiture, was Manu Kaur Saluja for her proposal to travel to the Golden Temple at Amritsar, India. Saluja intends to make portraits of the men and women from all walks of life who volunteer to work in the temple kitchens that operate year-round, providing meals to over 50,000 people free of charge, every day. 


BP Travel Award 2018 


The winner of the BP Travel Award 2018 was Robert Seidel for his proposal to travel along the route of the river Danube by train, boat and bike to connect with people and make portraits in the regions through which the river passes. The resulting work is displayed in the current exhibition.


The BP Portrait Award 2019 received 2,538 entries from 84 countries. Judged anonymously, 44 portraits were then selected for the free exhibition which will run at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from Thursday 13 June to Sunday 20 October 2019. After that the exhibition moves to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh from 7 December 2019 to 22 March 2020, and Ulster Museum, Belfast from April to June 2020.

The BP Young Artist Award

The BP Young Artist Award of £9,000 for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 was won by 28 year old Suffolk based artist Ania Hobson for A Portrait of two Female Painters, a portrait of the artist with her sister-in-law. The judges liked the handling of paint and directness in this work, capturing an interesting air of mystery around the relationship of the two young women.


The BP Travel Award 2018

Robert Seidel won the BP Travel Award 2018 for his proposal to travel along the route of the river Danube by train, boat and bike to connect with people and make portraits in the regions through which the river passes. The resulting work will be displayed alongside the BP Portrait Award 2019 exhibition. 


The BP Travel Award 2017

The BP Travel Award 2017 was won by Casper White for his proposal to create works about music fans in clubs and concert venues in Berlin and Mallorca, representing an often youth-related subculture that is not traditionally recorded in portrait paintings. His work is displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2018 on view at Winchester Discovery Centre until 26 June 2019.


BP Portrait Award: Next Generation

This exciting project offers free opportunities for young people to learn from BP Portrait Award artists and develop their creative skills around portraiture. For the tenth year, young people will take inspiration from the exhibition and create their own portraits, working from life. The Gallery offers one and three day art workshops culminating in the Young People’s Private View – an after-hours event exclusively for young people to meet and enjoy the exhibition, listen to DJs and take part in art workshops. The event is co-curated and hosted by the Gallery’s Youth Forum. 


BP Portrait Award: Next Generation also features a Gallery display showcasing the portraits created by talented young people from the previous year’s project together with a film highlighting the project. The project also includes regional art workshops for young people to meet and work with BP Portrait Award artists. BP Portrait Award: Next Generation has so far engaged over 3,700 young people in art projects.