REVIEW: BP Portrait Award Exhibition, National Portrait Gallery (Online)

For the first time, the National Portrait Gallery has made its annual BP Portrait Award exhibition available to view online.

Night Talk by Jiab Prachakul, 2019 © Jiab Prachakul.

As diverse as ever, the BP Portrait Award exhibition is chance to show just how portrait painting can express many different topics and emotions through different styles. Despite the fact that this year people can experience the exhibition online rather than in person, it is still a richly varied and fascinating display of portraits that have been selected for 2020.

Having had 1,981 entries a final 48 were selected for display in this diverse celebration of people from all different walks of life. From a couple immersed in own activities while at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art as portrayed in ‘Relationship’ by Hongshu Lei to Thomas Leveritt’s portrayal of NHS workers in ‘Midshift’, there is plenty to capture both imagination and attention.

This being said, the display is at its best when the works that are on display are simple but effective. For example Jamie Coreth’s sharp, bold and confident portrait of his friend Fatima is wonderfully honest and impressively captures the attention through the way in which it has been constructed – right down to the very pose that she strikes in the image.

What is also surprising this year is how many of the artists featured are also proclaimed to have been self-taught, highlighting the real sense of achievement and confidence that many of the artists selected possess. This is really captured through work such as Gary Craig’s portrait of his daughter Ellie which is wonderfully rich in detail both in her expression and her surroundings, while Jiab Prachakul’s BP Portrait Prize winning ‘Night Talk’ makes you long to know what the subjects are talking about.

As an exhibition, the BP Portrait Award presents a wonderful opportunity to celebrate portraiture in all its forms. But also importantly (particularly during this difficult time), it is a chance to celebrate the people around us and our different relationships with them as highlighted through the work of all these artists – having each portrait having begun with a personal encounter between artist and sitter.

While it is perhaps not as effective as seeing these portraits up close in person, it is still a rich and diverse experience that is worth looking at if you want to feel as though you are connected to the world and people in some form.

by Emma Clarendon

The BP Portrait Award exhibition is available to view through the National Portrait Gallery website here.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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