Of the 2,748 portraits from a record 92 countries submitted for judging by a panel including historian Simon Schama, three have been shortlisted for the First Prize. They are Matan Ben-Cnaan for Annabelle and Guy; Michael Gaskell for Eliza; and Borja Buces Renard for My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening.
The world’s most prestigious portrait painting competition, the BP Portrait Award First Prize of £30,000 is one of the largest for any global arts competition. The winner also receives a commission worth £5,000 to paint a portrait for the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection, to be agreed between the Gallery and the artist.
The Second Prize winner receives £10,000 and the Third Prize winner £8,000. While the competition is open to everyone over the age of 18, for the eighth year there will be a BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. This award winner and the other prize-winners will be announced on the evening of Tuesday 16 June 2015. The portraits go on display to the public at the BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 18 June to 20 September 2015.
Matan Ben-Cnaan is an artist from the north of Israel, who studied fine arts at Haifa University. His allegorical portrait is partly inspired by the biblical story of Jephthah, an Israelite judge who vowed to God on entering battle with the Ammonites, that should he emerge victorious from war, he will sacrifice the first thing that greets him upon his home-coming, probably believing that it would be a dog. However, on his return, it is his daughter who rushes out in welcome. In horror, he realises the tragic mistake he has made, but upholds his vow and sacrifices his child. At the centre of the portrait, located close to the artist’s home in Israel’s Jezreel Valley, is his friend Guy and step-daughter Annabelle. ‘Unified by the blinding light, all the objects in the picture become one,’ says Ben-Cnaan. ‘The tension imminent in the moment of realisation of the horrible price one must pay is reflected in the composition. The rough wall and rugged gravel echo the grittiness and grief in Guy's (Jephthah's) character, whilst the fig tree, casting an ominous shadow, presages Annabelle’s fate. Her strong posture reflects her own resolve and her role, in both the biblical story and in Guy’s life, in carrying his burdens and misfortune. Being no more than a child, Annabelle attempts to process her tragic fate’.
Selected for BP Portrait Award exhibitions five times and second prize winner on three occasions, Michael Gaskell is a Leicester-based artist. He was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 2012 to paint a portrait of climate scientist Sir James Lovelock and other commissions include a painting used on the poster for Wes Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom. His shortlisted portrait is of his niece Eliza, who agreed to sit for him in early 2014 at the age of 14, having first sat for a portrait for her uncle when she was a very small child, and that painting is yet to be completed. ‘I hope this painting conveys a sense of Eliza’s growing confidence as she develops into a woman’, says Gaskell, ‘but retains some of the self-consciousness which was also present at the time.’ He says the primary influence on the appearance of the portrait was the work of the fifteenth-century painter Hans Memling. A year before he started the portrait of Eliza, Gaskell had been commissioned to make a painting of an American collector who had a particular interest in the Early Netherlandish artist and had at some point owned work by him. In preparation for that picture Gaskell set about studying portraits by Memling and believes his work informs aspects of his portrait of Eliza such as the lighting and the composition.
Working and living between Madrid, Spain and Florida, USA, Borja Buces Renard has painted his mother Paloma and his brother Jaime in the living room of his parents’ house on a typical Sunday when the family would gather and talk. But his portrait has an added poignancy as his father, who had not been able to join them for such Sunday gatherings for some time due to illness, passed away a few weeks after the painting was finished. For the past four years his father had been suffering from a progressively debilitating illness. ‘Making this weekly event slowly disappear, I wanted to portray this emotion in my painting’, he says, ‘with the image of my father missing and that difficult time for all of us, especially for my mum whom had dedicated herself to taking care of him. Our living room, in which we all spent many evenings together was the place that would best capture that moment. I had painted my mother, father and brother many other times on that same couch, so I was pretty sure about how I wanted to use the light and colour’. The painting, with its powerfully dissolving forms on the edges of the canvas, is dedicated both to the artist’s father, Jose Antonio, and to his mother Paloma.
This year the competition received 2,748 entries from 92 countries, up from 2,377 entries from 71 countries in 2014. 55 portraits have been selected for the exhibition.
The Portrait Award is now in its 36th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 26th year of sponsorship by BP. This highly successful annual event aims to encourage artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. The BP Portrait Award 2014 had 281,717 visitors.
The BP Portrait Award 2014 was shortlisted in two categories at the 2015 UK Sponsorship Awards, and won the Corporate Sponsorship category for What the Artist Saw, a suite of films celebrating the 25th anniversary of BP’s sponsorship of the Portrait Award.
The competition was judged from original paintings by: Pim Baxter, Acting Director at the time of judging, National Portrait Gallery (Chair); Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery; Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art, National Museums Northern Ireland; Peter Monkman, Artist; Simon Schama, Historian; and Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP.
One of the 55 exhibited artists is eligible for the BP Travel Award 2015, an annual award of £6,000, which allows artists to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture. The resulting portraits are shown in the following year’s exhibition. The winner is announced on Tuesday 16 June.