BP Portrait Award 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery
This annual painted portrait competition has become something of a necessary fixture to the London calendar. This year’s selection is of exceptionally high quality, with many impressive and fascinating works. From 2,377 international entries, 55 are exhibited.
The overall winner is Man with a Plaid Blanket by Thomas Ganter; this is a truly outstanding piece which is well worth seeing live. Like many paintings this year, the style references past methods and techniques, in this case the golden halos of the Pre-Raphaelites. It’s a sensitive study which truly celebrates the humanity and dignity of the homeless man it portrays. It is meticulously painted, but does not show off technique at the expense of the subject.
Many of the paintings are awesome in technique, almost indistinguishable from photography. Some of the subjects awkwardly stand and stare out at the viewers while others are caught in a pensive or revealing moment. At their best, portraits give us an insight into personality and character, and some show a more introverted contemplation such as Seek First by John Murphy-Woolford, a small and quiet self-portrait which explores the inner-self. Most of the portraits are literal likenesses. A notable exception is the rather fun blue study Portrait of Jean Yves, a Man Looking Like Vincent Van Gogh by Gauthier Hubert.
It’s a great game to visit the annual exhibition and see if you agree with the prize-winners and what favourites you might prefer. The future of figurative painting is clearly alive and well, with splendid example of painterly expertise. Gina and Cristiano by Isabella Watling is a particularly atmospheric and assured work on display. Critics sometimes complain of this award that the winning entry is not worth the considerable £30,000 prize money, and that the painting does not usually stand well outside of this artistic context. This year’s winner is a contemporary classic which could be shown in any museum or gallery.
BP Portrait Award 2014 is at the National Portrait Gallery from 26th June until 21st September 2014. For further information or to book visit the gallery’s website here.