National Portrait Gallery
Until 4 September 2016
Every year the standard and diversity of portraiture goes up, and the ages of the rising stars goes down. The styles vary from near-photographic to post-impressionism and from the very large, like Laura Goake’s giant close-up Petra, with his subject’s hands covering his mouth, at 1.5 by 2 metres, or Brett Amory’s deperately sad portrait ofJijinka at 2.4 high by 1.2 metres wide, to the very small, like Elenor Vladimir Baranoff’s astonishingly detailed egg tempera on gesso board portrait of the Bishop of London in full regalia at 350mm x 250mm. How Goake manages to render out-of-focus features as they recede is mystifying – maybe she used a giant photographic blow-up? There are some very accomplished portraits in the show: Alex Chamberlin’s sketchy study of the pianist James Rhodes; the photographer Martin Chaffer by the unpronouncable Sopio Chkhikvadze posing against map of London, for no discernable reason; an almost Pre-Raphaelite feel to Laura in Black by Joshua LaRock in soft-focus, in contrast to the sharp-focus and dramatic lighting in Stephen Earl Rogers’s Haydn as Henry in a homage to the opening shot of Goodfellas with Ray Liotta; Daniele Vezzani’s sulky and defiant teenager Francesca; Shany van den Berg’s penetrating selfie, with one comment being ‘You don’t want to mess with this woman.’; the small and seemingly unfinished portrait of I.Crow X against a Vlaminck sky by Noah Buchanan.
The winners, in reverse order, were the poet Hugo Williams, who suffered kidney failure after the portrait was started, necessitataing Benjamin Sullivan to suspend the sittings. One can detect the fraility of the man, with a great deal of attention given to his entwined hands. In second place was a deeply moving painting of Bo Wang’s grandmother, dying on a hospital bed entitled Silence. The winner of the BP Young Artist Award, plus £7,000, went to Jamie Coreth for his slightly cluttered Dad Sculpting Me, a study of his father in his studio working on a portrait bust of the artist. First prize, with a cheque for £35,000 and a commission from the Gallery worth a further £5,000, went, deservedly to Clara Drummond for her Girl in a Liberty Dress, a subtle portrait of her friend and fellow artist Kirsty Buchanan. At first glance, the picture appeared rather slight and wistful, with echoes of Andrew Wyeth, but it has an enigmatic quality, which she likens to Bellini’s Madonna of the Meadow, painted in 1500. Both Alex Chamberlin and Clara are members of The Chelsea Arts Club, which this year celebrates its 125th Anniversary. Founder Club Members like John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert and J A M Whistler would be gratified to see their legacy in such safe hands.