Art exhibition: BP National Portrait Award
Few subjects offer as much variety as the human face which is why portraiture is so compelling to artists.
The 2017 BP Portrait Award exhibition, which has opened at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, features 53 stand-out works selected from 2,580 entries, by artists from 87 countries.
There are portraits of the famous and of mentors, but they’re mainly of friends and colleagues, as well strangers who prompted some intrigue in the artists.
This final selection is truly outstanding and includes work in a range of medium that challenges the viewer at an emotional as well as a creative level.
Breech! by an Edinburgh College of Art graduate Benjamin Sullivan took this year’s first prize of £30,000 makes it one of the largest global arts competitions.
His painting is a tender depiction of his wife Virginia breastfeeding their eight-month-old daughter. It took Sullivan less than five weeks to create the intimate painting, which reflects on the worrisome time the parents faced during Edith’s birth, and celebrates their love for their new child.
The prize judges, including broadcaster Kirsty Wark and artist Michael Landy, were particularly struck by the warmth and emotion present in Sullivan’s composition, which evokes Madonna and Child paintings through the ages and the depth of the maternal bond.
Sullivan’s work has been selected for display 12 times for the BP Portrait Award, in 2002 and every year from 2006 to 2015.
The French artist Thomas Ehretsmann won the second prize of £10,000 for Double Portrait, a painting of his wife Caroline. It is one of a number of lifelike images in the exhibition, so much so that a double-take is required to check they are not photographs.
Ehretsmann was inspired by a walk the couple were taking in a park and the way the light shone on Caroline’s face, which he said reminded him of the work of French naturalist painters.
In order to infuse the ephemeral moment with something more timeless, the artist used multiple layers of semi-transparent acrylic paint, a technique which he often employs in his work. The title suggests the passage from one state of being to another, and hints at Caroline’s pregnancy.
The third prize of £8,000 went to Antony Williams for Emma. The painting is named after the sitter, Emma Bruce, who modelled for Williams almost continuously for over a decade, during which the relationship between the two developed into friendship.
Although Emma is shown naked, her crossed arms prevent the viewer from seeing her directly; Williams wanted to portray both her vulnerability and determination.
Williams studied at Farnham College and Portsmouth University. An established portrait artist, his work has been seen in solo exhibitions in London and Madrid and included in the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibitions and previously in BP Portrait Award exhibitions in 1995, 1998, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2015.
The £7,000 BP Young Artist Award, for an entrant aged between 18 and 30, was won by New Zealander Henry Christian-Slane for Gabi, a portrait of his wife. Christian-Slane studied graphic design at Auckland University of Technology; this is the first time the artist and illustrator has been selected for the BP Portrait Award exhibition.
2017 marks the Portrait Award’s 38th year at the National Portrait Gallery, London and the 28th year of sponsorship by BP.
BP Portrait Award 2017, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, until 11 March. Admission free