The BP Portrait Award 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, has announced the three short-listed artists for this year’s competition. This award is one of the most prestigious awards for painting, which will be presented on 20 June 2017. All female sitters were selected from 2580 entries from 87 countries, submitted for judging by a panel which included broadcaster Kirsty Wark and artist Michael Landy.
The three portraits in the running for the First Prize are Double Portrait, by French painter and illustrator, Thomas Ehretsmann, depicting his pregnant wife Caroline; Breech! by Suffolk-based artist, Benjamin Sullivan, which captures his wife Virginia breastfeeding their eight-month-old daughter; and Emma, Antony Williams’s portrait of model turned friend, Emma Bruce, completed in his studio in Chertsey.
2017 will mark the Portrait Award’s 38th year at the National Portrait Gallery
It is the first time Thomas Ehretsmann and Antony Williams has been shortlisted for First Prize in the BP Portrait Award. Williams has been selected seven times for previous BP Portrait Award exhibitions and Ehretsmann was selected for exhibition in 2016. Benjamin Sullivan, also shortlisted for this year’s First Prize, was awarded a third prize for Hugo, his portrait of the poet Hugo Williams, in 2016, and has been selected 12 times for previous BP Portrait Award exhibitions.
The BP Portrait Award, one of the most important platforms for portrait painters, has a first prize of £30,000, making it one of the largest for any global art competition. The winner also receives, at the Gallery’s discretion, a commission worth £5,000 (agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist). The second prize winner receives £10,000 and a third prize of £8,000 is also awarded. The BP Young Artist Award, with a prize of £7,000, goes to one selected artist aged between 18 and 30.
2017 will mark the Portrait Award’s 38th year at the National Portrait Gallery. This highly successful annual event is aimed at encouraging artists over the age of eighteen to focus upon, and develop, the theme of portraiture in their work. The prize winners will be announced on the evening of Tuesday 20 June 2017. The BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition will run at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from Thursday 22 June to Sunday 24 September 2017.
Thomas Ehretsmann (06.07.1974) for Double Portrait (300 x 400mm, Acrylic on board). Born in Mulhouse France, Ehretsmann gained a degree in illustration from the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs, Strasbourg. His work as an illustrator has been featured in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Elle Magazine. His portrait Vacuum 2 was selected for the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition.
Double Portrait captures a moment when the artist was walking in the park with his wife, Caroline. Ehretsmann was struck by the light on Caroline’s face which he said reminded him of the work of naturalist painters Jules Bastien-Lepage and Emile Friant. The artist used multiple layers of semi-transparent acrylic paint in order to mix a fragile instant with something more timeless, a technique often used in his art. The title, Double Portrait, suggest the passage from one state of being to another as Caroline was eight months pregnant at the time.
Benjamin Sullivan (10.05.1977) for Breech! (820 x 400mm, oil on canvas). Grimsby-born, Benjamin Sullivan, who lives in Suffolk, gained a BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting from Edinburgh College of Art. Benjamin’s work has been seen regularly in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition and he has previously been selected twelve times for the BP Portrait Award in 2002 and between 2006 and 2016 when his portrait Hugo was awarded the third prize. His portrait of the cosmologist and astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 2008.
Breech! depicts the artist’s wife Virginia breastfeeding their eight-month-old daughter Edith, at a time when Sullivan says ‘a sense of calm descended after the usual period of disarrangement that new parents face.’ The artist wanted to celebrate the love that had come into their lives and reflect on the worrisome time the couple faced during Edith’s birth. The painting was made over four to five weeks in the artist’s studio when Edith’s cooperation was forthcoming.
Antony Williams (23.06.1964) for Emma (690 x560mm, Egg tempera on board) Antony 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. His portrait of Amartya Sen was commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery Collection.
Emma features Emma Bruce who had been modelling for Williams almost continuously for eleven years in his studio in Chertsey. The artist’s relationship with the sitter has developed over the years from that of being someone who was modelling for a painting to someone who has become a friend. Williams wanted to portray some of her vulnerability, but also the determination in her character where she is shown naked but at the same time is preventing the viewer from seeing her completely.
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Chair of the Judges and Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘It is always an enormous privilege to chair the judging panel of the BP Portrait Award and to see at first hand the extraordinary depth and breadth of contemporary portrait painting internationally. I am delighted with this year’s shortlist and the final selection of works for the exhibition, all of which provoked an immediate response from the judges – whether that be a reaction to the skill displayed by a particular artist, or a more visceral connection with the sitter, subject matter or the mood conveyed.’
The prize winners and exhibition were selected by a judging panel chaired by Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery. The full panel included Camilla Hampshire, Museums Manager and Cultural Lead, Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter; Michael Landy, artist; Kirsty Wark, broadcaster; Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator, Contemporary Collections, National Portrait Gallery; and Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP.
To enter, artists were invited to upload a photograph of their finished painting to the BP Portrait Award website, which was considered by the judges in the first round of the competition. 218 entrants were successful in this round and invited to hand-deliver or courier their work to a venue in London for the second round of judging. From this 53 works were selected for the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition.
One of the 53 exhibited artists will receive the BP Travel Award 2017, 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 of the BP Travel Award 2017 is announced at the award ceremony on Tuesday 20 June 2017.
BP TRAVEL AWARD 2016
The BP Travel Award 2016 was won by Lithuanian artist Laura Guoke for her proposal to travel to refugee camps in Ritsona, Greece. On her travels, Guoke took sketches, photographs and film in order to create large-format portraits of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria and the volunteers helping them. Her aim was to show migrants as people with names, faces and individual stories, using her work to convey personal themes which may otherwise be difficult to put into words. The resulting work will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition.
Images Top (from left): Double Portrait by Thomas Ehretsmann © Thomas Ehretsmann; Breech! by Benjamin Sullivan © Benjamin Sullivan; Emma by Antony Williams © Antony Williams