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A Girl in a Liberty Dress, the poet Hugo Williams and a Chinese artist’s dying grandmother in the running for BP Portrait Awards 2016

Release date:
11 August 2017
Three artists have been shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, which will be presented on 21 June 2016 by athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, it was announced today

Of the 2,557 portraits from 80 countries submitted for judging by a panel including artist Jenny Saville and writer Alan Hollinghurst, three have been shortlisted for the First Prize. They are Londoner Clara Drummond for Girl in a Liberty Dress; Benjamin Sullivan, who lives in Suffolk for Hugo, his portrait of the poet Hugo Williams; and from China Bo Wang for Silence, a portrait of his dying Grandmother.


While Clara Drummond has now been selected five times and Benjamin Sullivan 12 times for BP Portrait Award exhibitions, Bo Wang is selected for the first time. He is only the second artist from China to be shortlisted for the First Prize; Clara Drummond and Benjamin Sullivan are also shortlisted for the first time.


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 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 ninth 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 21 June 2016. The portraits go on display to the public at the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 23 June to 4 September 2016.

Clara Drummond (27.09.1977) for Girl in a Liberty Dress

(260 x 370 mm, oil on board)

Born in Edinburgh, Cambridgeshire-based Clara Drummond studied modern languages at Cambridge University before going on to study at the Prince’s Drawing School. Her work was selected for the BP Portrait Award in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2014. Her portrait of Girl in a Liberty Dress is of her friend, the artist Kirsty Buchanan whom she also painted for her exhibited works in BP Portrait Award in 2013 and 2014. When Kirsty came to sit for Clara she would wear a vintage Liberty dress inspired by the fact that both artists were working with the William Morris Society archive on an exhibition at the time and were looking at the hand drawn patterns for fabrics, wallpapers and tapestries by Jane Morris and May Morris, William Morris's wife and daughter.

Girl in a Liberty Dress (260 x 370 mm, oil on board)

Drummond says of Kirsty that 'she is inspiring because she is always immersed in the ideas around whatever she is making at the time, history, nature, mythology and art all feed into her work, so when I am drawing or painting her it feels more like a collaboration than a portrait sitting.'Her previous portraits include artist and model Iris Palmer for BP Portrait Award 2009, and her friend, actor Ben Whishaw, from 2005.

Benjamin Sullivan (10.05.1977) for Hugo

(460 x 360 mm, oil on canvas)

Hugo (460 x 360 mm, oil on canvas)

Grimsby-born Benjamin Sullivan, who lives in Suffolk, gained a BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting from Edinburgh College of Art. His portrait of Hugo Williams was painted in the study of the poet’s Islington home and Sullivan says the sittings were ‘accompanied by, very loud, Elvis and early Cajun music’. The artist had been an admirer of Hugo Williams’s poetry, especially his Billy’s Rain collection, and after being introduced to him at a private view in 2014 by a friend, the poet Stephen Romer, Williams agreed to sit for a portrait. Benjamin Sullivan’s work has been seen regularly in the exhibitions of the New English Art Club, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and he was selected for exhibition 12 times for the BP Portrait Award in 2002, and 2006 to 2015. He is currently artist-in-residence at the Reform Club, Pall Mall. Sullivan’s portrait of the cosmologist and astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Bo Wang (03.12.1981) for Silence

(100 x 116 mm, tempera on board)

Chinese artist Bo Wang is a lecturer at Suzhou University of Science and Technology in Jiangsu. He studied at the Ilia Repin St Petersburg Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and has exhibited at the National Art Museum of China, in Xinjian, and the Xinjiang International Exhibition Centre. His portrait depicts his grandmother lying on the hospital bed a month before she died, while she was in the terminal stages of cancer and losing her ability to speak. ‘Sometimes she tilted her head and looked at me,’ says Bo Wang. ‘There was too much emotion in her eyes to be expressed in words. I almost forgot about painting techniques or any specific style, just trying to use my brushes to communicate silently with my grandma. I can strongly feel the state of a dying life when I think of her eyes’. Bo Wang says the work of Paul Gauguin is always in his mind when thinking of this portrait especially the artist’s enigmatically titled masterpiece – Where are we from? Who are we? Where shall we go?

Silence (100 x 116 mm, tempera on board)

This year the competition received 2,557 entries from 80 countries. 53 portraits have been selected for the exhibition.

The Portrait Award is now in its 37th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 27th 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 2015 had 329,556 visitors.

The competition was judged from original paintings by: Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London (Chair); Christopher Baker, Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; Alan Hollinghurst, writer; Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London; Jenny Saville, artist; Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Chair of Judges and Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘It has been a great privilege in my first year as judge of the BP Portrait Award to see so many artists from around the world creating such compelling paintings. The final selection for the exhibition, including this shortlist, brings together some really striking examples of the contemporary portrait.’

Ms Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP, says: ‘The variety and vitality of the entries and pictures selected for this year’s exhibition show that modern portrait painting continues to be in robust health. And with entries coming from 80 countries, I am particularly pleased that the shortlist has once again proved that this is a truly global competition.’

One of the 53 exhibited artists is eligible for the BP Travel Award 2016, 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 21 June at a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in which the prizes will be presented by Jessica Ennis-Hill. The athlete is represented in the Gallery’s Collection by two photographs by Bettina von Zwehl and Kate Peters.


BP travel award 2015

The BP Travel Award 2015 was won by French artist Magali Cazo for her proposal to travel to a community of bronze-smelters in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa. There she has lived with and represented the artists, apprentices and labourers whose lives revolve around the foundry. Magali was inspired by the vivid colours of the landscape, the architecture and the clothes on a previous visit to Bobo-Dioulasso and has used the sketches made on that trip to develop a series of portraits on wood. Magali’s resulting work from her travels this year will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition.


BP Portrait Award 2016 and BP Travel Award 2015

23 Jun – 4 Sep 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Admission free supported by BP Press View: 22 June 10am-12pm



Usher Gallery, Lincoln (12 September – 13 November 2016); Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (Late November 2016 - late March 2017); New Walk Museum & Art Gallery , Leicester (8/9 April – 11 June 2017)



A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition and features an essay by award-winning writer Ali Smith. The BP Portrait Award 2016 is published 23 June 2016, and includes over 70 colour illustrations, price £9.99 (pbk).


Family trail

The National Portrait Gallery will be working with children's picture book illustrator Emily Rand to produce drawings for a free family trail available throughout the duration of the BP Portrait Award 2016. www.emilyrand.com


BP Portrait Award: next generation

is an exciting project offering free opportunities for 14-21 year-olds to creatively engage with painted portraiture through the BP Portrait Award. For the seventh year, young people will be able to connect with past BP Portrait Award-winning artists, meet other young people interested in portraiture and create their own portraits through a series of programmes including Taster Sessions, Drop-in Drawing, three-day Summer Schools, the fourth after-hours Young People’s Private View, an onsite display showcasing the project, and youth-generated digital content including video interviews with artists and participants. BP Portrait Award: Next Generation has so far engaged over 2,500 young people, onsite and regionally. More details of 2016 programmes will be announced in May.







BP Portrait Award 2016 – overall figures

Total entrants 2,557 (UK Entries 1,241, International Entries 1,316)


BP Portrait Award 2016 – exhibition figures (53 selected from total entry)

England (24), United States (9), Germany (3), France (2), Ireland (2), Spain (2), Italy (2), Scotland (2), China (1), Russia (1), New Zealand (1), South Africa (1), Lithuania (1), Columbia (1), Northern Ireland (1).


For further press information please contact: Neil Evans, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery, London, Email nevans@npg.org.uk

Notes to editors

BP support for UK Arts & Culture: In the UK, BP is a major supporter of the arts with a programme that spans over 35 years. BP’s investment in long term partnerships with the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House, and Tate Britain represent one of the most significant long-term corporate investments in UK arts and culture www.bp.com

BP portrait award 2016 exhibited artists

  • Brett Amory, United States
  • Diego Aznar Remon, Spain
  • Elena Vladimir Baranoff, United States
  • Frances Borden, England
  • John Borowicz, United States
  • Martin Brooks, England
  • Noah Buchanan, United States
  • Richard Burger, England
  • Lewis Chamberlain, England
  • Alexander Chamberlin, England
  • Sopio Chkhikvadze, England
  • Jamie Coreth, England
  • Saied Dai, England
  • Boris Dobre, Germany
  • Clara Drummond, England
  • Thomas Ehretsmann, France
  • Samantha Fellows, England
  • Benjamin Fenske, United States
  • Jorge Federico Fernandez Gartner, Colombia
  • Ivan Franco Fraga, Spain
  • Jane Gardiner, Scotland
  • Fiona Graham-McKay, England
  • Laura Guoke, Lithuania
  • Jacob Hayes, United States
  • Eileen Hogan, England
  • Vadim Kadzhaev, Russia
  • Wolfgang Kessler, Germany
  • Antonio Laglia, Italy
  • Joshua LaRock, United States
  • Miseon Lee, Ireland
  • Gentian Lulanaj, Ireland
  • Charlie Masson, United States
  • Charles Moxon, England
  • William Neukomm, United States
  • Eilis Otway, England
  • Simon Richardson, New Zealand
  • Keith Robinson, England
  • Stephen Earl Rogers, England
  • Brian Sayers, England
  • Teri Anne Scoble, England
  • Mark Shields, Northern Ireland
  • Daisy Sims-Hilditch, England
  • Benjamin Sullivan, England
  • Christophe Therrien, France
  • Jean-Paul Tibbles, England
  • Shany van den Berg, South Africa
  • Daniele Vezzani, Italy
  • David von Bassewitz, Germany
  • Bo Wang, China
  • Joshua Waterhouse, England
  • Helen Wilson, Scotland
  • Val Wolstenholme Clay, England
  • Martin Yeoman, England

Further information


  • National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
    • Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am-6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm)
    • Recorded information: 020 7312 2463. General information: 020 7306 0055
    • Website: www.npg.org.uk
  • Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross