Portrait painting has had a renaissance in recent years and if you would like to understand why, it may be worth going to the Mall Galleries to the prestigious Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition which shows over 200 portraits by over 100 artists.
The Society of Portrait Painters was founded in 1891 when twenty-four artists, frustrated by the elitist attitude of the Royal Academy, joined together to form a society devoted exclusively to the art and development of portrait painting. Twenty years later this became the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Early members included John Everett Millais, George Frederick Watts and James McNeil Whistler.
Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture winner – Lantian D
The preview for the exhibition is always well attended with plenty of interest in the number of prestigious prizes being presented. Prizes awarded by the Society include, the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture, The Prince of Wales’s Award for Portrait Drawing, Burke’s Peerage Foundation Award for Classically Inspired Portraiture, the Changing Faces Prize, the de Laszlo Foundation Prize and the Smallwood Prize.
A walk around the exhibition illustrates the diversity of this genre. The portraits include a wide range of individuals, there are some famous and not so famous faces and an intriguing mix of styles.
Michael Noakes RP with Lord Bragg
Some of the famous faces captured by a number of portrait painters include Lord Bragg, Lord Hattersley, Sir Tom Courtenay, Don McCullin, James Norton, Roger Scruton, Andrew Strauss, Indira Varma and John Williams (Executive Chef at the Ritz) who donned his Chef outfit to pose in front of his painting.
John Williams (Executive Chef at the Ritz)
Part of the attraction of many of the portraits is the way the artist picks out some of the characteristics of the sitter. Away from the more familiar faces, many of the portraits feature recognisable characters from all walks of life and in many ways reflect life in contemporary Britain, even Agnieszka who serves coffee in the cafe has been immortalized in one of the portraits by Bob Last.
Unlike many exhibitions, this one is an open celebration of the genre and portrait artists and reflects the society’s longstanding aims to ‘encourage the appreciation, study and practice of the art of portraiture’. This exhibition and the prizes are part of those aims complementing a number of other initiatives in the show. Many of the portraits are available to be purchased or if you would like to commission a portrait, the Society will give advice and provide a list of artists.
Anne-Marie Butlin’s painting of actress Indira Varma
If you would to investigate the state of British Portrait painting, this exhibition will illustrate that there is plenty of talent and interest in the genre. Located just off the Mall, the exhibition runs from the 5th to 20th May from 10am to 5pm. Tuesdays open until 7pm.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Entry £3. Concessions £2.50
If you would like to find out more about the exhibition, visit the Society website here
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