Now in its 37th year at the gallery, the BP Portrait Award exhibition once again displays and celebrates a wide variety of talent – but feels a bit too sombre to be enjoyed properly. 

If there is one exhibition that celebrates life and individuality in all forms it is the BP Portrait Award, which this year saw judges having to whittle down from 2,500 entries from eighty countries to a select group that is now on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

The quality of entries must have been extremely high, judging by the paintings that are on show here, from Daniele Vezzani’s portrait of his daughter Francesca, extremely life like and challenging in the subject’s gaze to Eileen Hogan’s self-portrait grim on first impression but extremely honest, there isn’t any angle not covered.

What makes this exhibition so rewarding is the way in which the artists have clearly used a mixture of traditional and modern techniques to create a new and vibrant type of portrait, showing how portraiture has evolved and can continue to be developed. It’s just a shame that it feels a little bit grim and serious.

The majority of the subjects aren’t smiling and in one case (the second prize winner in fact) Silence by Bo Wang actually shows the artist’s grandmother in a hospital bed in her final battle with cancer. As heart wrenching and powerful as the image is, it feels oddly inappropriate to have something that personal documented.

However, on the positive side, the exhibition reveals the wide variety of emotions and the complex nature of human behaviour, getting beneath the surface of a person’s appearance and allowing their personality to shine through.

Stand out portraits include Teri Anne Scoble’s The 271 to Arsenal (Xavier & Max) which is wonderfully relaxed and natural and this year’s winner of the BP Portrait prize Girl in a Liberty Dress by Clara Drummond, a subtle and haunting piece of work.

Overall, it is an exhibition that is worth visiting for anyone with an interest in seeing how portraiture has developed and changed, but be prepared to feel ever so slightly serious when you emerge.

The BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition is on display until the 4th September. For more information visit: