Sunday, 4 July 2010


As has become tradition over the years, there are certain annual art dates in my calendar that never fail to get me excited. Think of the Turner Prize, The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, and of course the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Award, sponsored by current news headline holders BP, for whom 2010 marks their 21st year of endorsement, which by modern standards in business – is rather impressive.

The Portrait Award, now in its 31st year at the National Portrait Gallery, is a highly successful annual event aimed at encouraging artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. After having its most successful year – receiving some 2,177 entries, with 1,496 of those being from the UK – the variety of skills and talents presented were second to none, with this being – what I believe to be – one of the strongest and toughest years to judge yet.
On Tuesday 22nd June the winners of the BP Portrait Award 2010 was announced. In first place was Daphne Todd who scooped a prize fund of £25,000 for her portrait, ‘Last Portrait of Mother’, a devotional study of her dead mother. If this wasn’t a great enough prize, the winner also receives a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth a further £4,000.

Before Todd’s mother passed away at the age of 100, she gave her daughter her permission to paint her after death, while her body awaited burial. Todd spent three days observing the subtle changes in her appearance before the body was embalmed, incorporating details such as her stomach expanding with gas into her emotive portrait.

“The body had its own beauty about it and was riveting to do.”

In second place came last year’s runner up, Michael Gaskell. Based in Leicester, interestingly Michael only got to know his sitter, Harry (whom his portrait is named after), when he agreed to sit for him after having seen Harry for the first time whilst he was out shopping with his family. Luckily for us Michael was persuaded to approach Harry by his wife. In the resulting portrait which was completed in a short burst of intense work over the winter of 2009-10, Gaskell tried to evoke a sense of what had drawn him to Harry, but he hopes that the image is also informed by what he gained from hearing about the sitter’s experiences and aspirations.
Coming in third this year is David Eichenberg who studied art at the University of Toledo in his home town. While he has exhibited throughout the United States, ‘Tom II’ is his first BP exhibited work. His portrait shows his friend, the sculptor Timothy A. Stover, seated at a metal bandsaw in the fabrication shop in which he works, located directly below the artist’s studio in an old warehouse in Toledo, Ohio.
In addition to the three main prizes awarded each year, there is also a special category for entrants under 25 named the Young Artist Award, which this year went to Elizabeth McDonald for her portrait entitled, ‘Don't Be Too Serious’. Elizabeth painted her portrait of her friend and fellow artist, Camillo Paravicini, in his studio in her home city of Glasgow. While they worked in the same building, in neighbouring studios, the two artists hardly knew each other.

She says while the clothing Camillo wears in the portrait – a black jacket and tie and black rimmed glasses – is similar to that which he would normally wear, his posture was staged to accentuate the tension between youth and maturity. “Through the sittings, and getting to know Camillo, I not only found myself examining his personal style but looking closer at other aspects of his personality. Perhaps most intriguingly, I began to see simultaneously the boy in the young man and the older professional gentleman the young man could become.”

Whilst they didn’t win any of the top prizes there were a few artists among the 58 exhibiting that I felt really deserved a mention:
Sentinel by Lyndsey Jameson
Inside Out (Clare with Claire) by Brian Shields
Quena by Eliot Haigh
Le Grand Natan by Daniel Enkaoua
Apostolado/ Apostolate by Rafael Rodriguez

58 portraits have been selected for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which runs from 24 June until 19 September 2010.

Images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. From top to bottom: Last portrait of mother by Daphne Todd © Daphne Todd, Harry by Michael Gaskell © Michael Gaskell, Tim II by David Eichenberg © David Eichenberg, Don’t Be Too Serious by Elizabeth McDonald © Elizabeth McDonald, Sentinel by Lyndsey Jameson © Lyndsey Jameson, Quena by Eliot Haigh © Eliot Haigh, Le Grand Natan by Daniel Enkaoua © Daniel Enkaoua and Apostolado/ Apostolate by Rafael Rodriguez © Rafael Rodriguez.

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