BP Portrait Award 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery
Like the RA Summer Exhibition, the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery is a summer fixture guaranteed to bring in the punters. It’s easy to see why: this is contemporary art that means something to most people, dealing with real people and their relationships with real painters.
Those who make the visit will be rewarded with three rooms of strong candidates for the £30,000 prize. This year, the winners of the first and second prize are very well chosen. Interestingly, both are portraits of women who are about to or have just given birth to a baby, painted by their husbands.
Double Portrait by Thomas Ehretsmann (second prize) captures an everyday moment: a profile view of the artist’s wife as she walks in the park. Although the label and the title indicate that she is heavily pregnant, you would never know due to the crop; with this knowledge, however, the calm glow that surrounds her gains a double meaning.
The winner is a work called Breech! by Benjamin Sullivan, depicting his wife breastfeeding their eight-month-old baby. It’s a startlingly honest painting that conveys the complex feelings of love, exhaustion and challenge after the birth of a new child.
There are other smatterings of highly accomplished or touching works throughout the exhibition. On the whole, however, the show seems sadly lacking in innovation. Of course, this is partly because of the prize’s prescriptive format: painted portraits. Nevertheless, it feels like most techniques and ideas had been seen before. This also becomes obvious from reading the accompanying materials; most of the artists in the exhibition have been shortlisted for the prize in the past.
As long as you’re not searching for cutting-edge contemporary art, however, the BP Portrait Award is an enjoyable experience. Some of the works are beautiful, some are extraordinarily detailed and some are downright ugly; all are worth a glance.
BP Portrait Award 2017 is at the National Portrait Gallery from 22nd June until 24th September 2017. For further information visit here.