National Portrait Gallery Announces Annual BP Portrait Art Prize Shortlist

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artwork: Paul Beel - "Madame X and Her Royale Flush", 2009 - Oil on canvas - 100 x 90 cm. Image courtesy of Piccola Galeria, © the artist. After winning the 2010 BP travel award, Florence-based American artist Paul Beel will present the result, a large-scale, plein-air group portrait of figures on a beach in Corfu as part of the 2011 BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London from June 16th to September 18th 2011.


London.- The shortlist for this year’s BP Portrait Award have been unveiled. The winner, who will be announced on the 14 June, will receive £25,000 prize money and a commission worth £4,000. The annual BP Portrait Award is the most prestigious portrait competition in the world, promoting the very best in contemporary portrait painting. This year’s exhibition, on view at the National Portrait Gallery in London from June 16th to September 18th, will feature fifty-five works selected from a record 2,372 international entries, including the four shortlisted artists; Ian Cumberland for “Just to Feel Normal”, Wim Heldens for “Distracted”, Sertan Saltan for “Mrs Cerna” and Louis Smith for “Holly”, as well as the BP Travel Award 2010 winner, Florence-based American artist Paul Beel, who travelled to Corfu to paint a large-scale, plein-air group portrait of figures on a secluded nudist beach. From intimate and personal images of friends and family, to revealing paintings of celebrity sitters, the exhibition presents a variety of styles and approaches that together illustrate the outstanding and innovative work currently being produced by artists of all ages and nationalities. Last year the award was won by former teacher Daphne Todd for a painting of her 100-year-old mother’s corpse.

Ian Cumberland was born in Banbridge, Co. Down, in 1983. He studied painting at the University of Ulster, Belfast, graduating in 2006. On leaving the University of Ulster he was offered a place at Goldsmith College, London, but decided rather to paint full-time. Artists who have influenced him include Lucian Freud and Stephen Conroy, although he borrows freely from those who he admires. His interests are firmly set in realism and he has never been drawn to abstraction. Although he has exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Royal Ulster Academy, this is his first major exhibition. One of his paintings, acquired from his degree show at the University of Ulster, is in the collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. He lives and works in Ireland. As a painter Cumberland’s main interest is with people and the (often absurd) things they do. Thus his pictures reflect situations in everyday life, attitudes and values expressed or implied and so on. In his own words, he is ‘always watching people’ and his observations shape his compositions. There is nothing judgmental in his work, but he indulges in what he calls ‘black comedy’ in terms of the general surrealism that is never far from his view. His early pictures, done around 2002-04, were much influenced by graphic design and the world of advertising as well as by images derived from the cinema.

artwork: Wim Heldens - "Distracted" Oil on canvas - 75 x 55 x 2 cm. Image courtesy the National Portrait Gallery, © the artist.Wim Heldens is a self-taught, professional artist who lives in Amsterdam and whose work has been seen in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States. He was a BP Portrait Award exhibitor in 2008 and 2010. Wim’s shortlisted portrait is of Jeroen, a 25-year-old philosophy student to whom the artist has been a father-figure for twenty years: ‘I have been fascinated with painting Jeroen in all stages of life through growing up. While I have painted him many times in groups, once in a while there is the desire to paint a simple portrait of just him. Now, he is an intelligent and sensitive young man.’  For Wim Heldens, a meticulously realistic with a time consuming technique, painting is an expression of dedication and a tribute to the human soul as against the background of a commercialized, materialistic society, people barely have time for each other any longer. In a time when for most people, life seems to be geared toward instant gratification and making an easy, quick profit, leading to an immense impoverishment of human existence, he chooses to work for months on only one painting in a refined renaissance-like technique. In his paintings, Wim Heldens wants to confront the viewer with other people, making them aware of the presence of the human character and soul in an art-form that needs no explaining and theorizing. In his portraits, he is never flattering or glamourizing his subjects. Heldens is always in search of the human soul behind the face, the inner reality behind the faade, which can sometimes make looking at his paintings a rather disturbing and unsettling – but always compelling – experience.

Sertan Saltan, originally from Turkey, now lives and works in Avon, Connecticut (USA), where he is developing a studio. He studied painting at a famous atelier in Istanbul before moving to the United States in 2006 to continue his studies at New York State University where he gained a BFA in Product Design.

Sertan’s sitter, Mrs Cerna, is the younger sister of a friend in New York City: ‘The contrast of knife, gloves and rollers brought both humour and horror to mind. I wanted to capture on canvas that moment which allows the viewer to meet this extraordinary woman and experience the richness and complexity of her preparation for this Thanksgiving dinner.’

artwork: Louis Smith - "Holly" Oil on canvas - 12' x 8'. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, © the artist.Louis Smith was born in 1969 in Manchester England. In 1995 he took a Pre-Grad Foundation course in Art and Design at Tameside College. The course lasted two years and he specialised in Fine Art Painting for the second year. Once he had completed this programme he went on to study a BA Honours degree in Fine Art Painting at Sheffield University. In 1991 he took a new direction. His desire to learn the skills to make himself a better artist lead him to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art London, studying scene painting and learning the basics of painting backgrounds and props. After graduating from the academy he felt more confident making a living in an industry that appreciated his skills as a realist painter. At the beginning of his career he assisted other scenic artists. He was inspired by some very talented people, and strove to rise to their level throughout his career. In his spare time he created his own paintings and in 2004 showcased his work at the Fresh Art Fair, London. He gained interest from a number of galleries and went on to exhibit at both the Farmelo Gallery and Cork Gallery in London, and at both the Vernon Gallery and Object Art Gallery in Manchester. In 2004 he studied a part-time teaching course at Central College, Manchester. After deciding to commit fully to Classical Realism Art, he went on to study for 3 years in Florence Italy. Since leaving he has been shortlisted for a number of awards. Louis’ huge portrait is an allegory of the Prometheus story re-imagined in female form – as punishment for stealing fire from Zeus Prometheus was chained to a rock where an eagle ate his liver daily only for it to grow back to be eaten the next day: ‘It’s a message of composure in the face of adversity, something we can all draw strength from in our struggle to make a living each day.’

The National Portrait Gallery was formally established on 2 December 1856, and amongst its founder Trustees were Stanhope as Chairman, Macaulay, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Ellesmere. The National Portrait Gallery was established with the criteria that the Gallery was to be about history, not about art, and about the status of the sitter, rather than the quality or character of a particular image considered as a work of art. This criterion is still used by the Gallery today when deciding which works enter the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. Originally, it was decided by the Trustees that “No portrait of any person still living, or deceased less that 10 years, shall be admitted by purchase, donation, or bequest, except only in the case of the reigning Sovereign, and of his or her Consort”. This rule changed in 1969 in order to encourage a policy of admitting living sitters. The Gallery’s early years were spent without a permanent home and for forty years the collection was moved around London to a succession of homes. In 1889, promted by a significant donation offer, the government assigned a site which had previously been occupied by St Martin’s Workhouse to the north-east of the National Gallery. The doors were opened at 10am on 4 April 1896 without an official ceremony, and 4,200 people visited the new building on the opening day. By the time the new Gallery opened it was already too small to display the Gallery’s growing collection, and in 1928 the art dealer and benefactor, Sir Joseph Duveen agreed to fund a £40,000 extension, which took the form of a wing along Orange Street. Post-World War II, the National Portrait Gallery was a fairly quiet and scholarly establishment. However, a key member of staff who was to take the Gallery into a new era was appointed in 1959. A young Roy Strong joined as an Assistant Keeper and later succeeded David Piper as Director in 1967. During Strong’s directorship, a succession of great and memorable events took place, including Cecil Beaton’s photographs in 1968 which attracted 75,000 visitors; the opening of a new department of film and photography; the commissioning of Annigoni to paint the Queen in 1970, a portrait seen by nearly 250,000 people during the first two months and the decision in 1972, to make a substantial loan of 16th & 17th century portraits to Montacute, a National Trust house in Somerset. The profile of the Gallery and its attendance figures rose significantly. Today, the Gallery offers a superb visitor experience with a high standard of public facilities and three floors of gallery space. As well as the Collection which is permanently on view, the Gallery stages six major exhibitions and more than ten special displays a year and runs a full and varied programme of events, conferences, family activities, music evenings and talks. Visitors to the National Portrait Gallery continue to increase with over 1.8 million visits in 2009. Visit the National portrait Gallery’s website at … http://www.npg.org.uk