In Profile: The BP Portrait Award

It is tempting to think of portraits as the preserve of long-gone aristocrats with huge white wigs and perfectly powdered faces, but the BP Portrait Award exhibition challenges this assumption with its varied selection of contemporary portraits. The winners of this prestigious portraiture competition were revealed yesterday and an exhibition of selected works starts tomorrow at the National Portrait Gallery and runs until 20 September, 2015. If you’re staying at Strand Palace Hotel and are considering heading along, check out our guide below.


The Portrait Award exhibition has been held at the National Portrait Gallery for 36 years now. Once sponsored by tobacconists John Player, the award is now championed by oil and gas company BP. Recent winners include Frankfurt-born artist Thomas Ganter, who claimed the 2014 prize with his poignant work, Man with a Plaid Blanket, and South African-born artist Susanne du Toit, whose powerful portrait Pieter took the title in 2013.

Why this award?

For the art world, the BP Portrait Award is akin to an Oscar or an Emmy. Winners get lots of kudos and £30,000 for their efforts. Perhaps that is why 2,748 portraits were submitted this year alone. Competition is extremely tough, even just to claim a spot in this exhibition – only 55 pieces will make the cut.

The portraits

Three portraits made the shortlist this year. Annabelle and Guy, by Israeli artist Matan Ben Cnaan, is a modern depiction of Jephthah from the Bible, who has to sacrifice his daughter after succeeding in battle. Eliza by Michael Gaskell is an arresting rendering of his teenage niece. Gaskell My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening is a modern family portrait by Borja Buces Renard, a transatlantic artist who divides his time between Madrid and Florida. The competition is global in scope and 92 different countries were represented among the 2015 entrants.

Other visitor information

It is free to visit both the BP Portrait Award exhibition and the rest of the National Portrait Gallery. While you’re here, be sure to check out some of the other portraits on show, including depictions of William Shakespeare and the famous nurse Mary Seacole.

Getting there

If you’re staying at Strand Palace Hotel and would like to go along to the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, you’re in luck. The National Portrait Gallery is just a short stroll away from us and it should take less than 10 minutes to get there on foot.

Looking for a hotel near the National Gallery? Choose Strand Palace. Not only is our hotel near the National Portrait Gallery, but we are also within walking distance of the Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre, making us an excellent choice for culture vultures.

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