The Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters has released details of its 132nd Annual Exhibition to be held at Mall Galleries, London from May 4 to 13 (closed on May 6 for coronation). The prestigious and historic show (the first being held in 1891,) which is the largest and most significant celebration of contemporary portrait painting in Europe, will feature around 230 beautiful portraits which have been expertly curated by artist members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP).

Many of the portraits to be shown will be available for the public to buy and visitors will also be able to commission their own portraits by exhibiting artists.

Frances Bell - 'End of Lockdown'
Frances Bell – ‘End of Lockdown’

Selection for the RP’s Annual Exhibition is highly prized (exhibiting artists are in the running for awards worth £40,000,) with artists submitting portraits from across the world. This year, the exhibition received almost 3,500 entries, compared to 2,800 last year, with 1,208 coming from outside the UK.

Portraits to be shown include paintings, drawings and original prints from both UK and international artists with work by upandcoming artists exhibited alongside established RP members. This year’s Annual Exhibition theme is ‘clothing’ and there will also be a special display of portraits from Girton College, University of Cambridge.

Anthony Connolly ‘Isabella’

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters has a new President (as of last year), painter Anthony Connolly PRP. Of this year’s Annual Exhibition, Anthony said: Portraiture is not just for the titled, the dons and the captains of industry. Portraiture is made by thousands of painters about all kinds of people; subjects represent every morsel of contemporary society. That balance between the person painted and the stuff of paint is just a huge and enduring fascination. This year’s Annual Exhibition reveals portraiture in the UK to be well and truly ‘bubbling,’ and gives air to a wide variety of painters without compromising standards.”

Gaia by Anna Laurin
Gaia by Anna Laurin

There are a number of celebrity portraits in this year’s Annual Exhibition. These include portraits of actor Richard E. Grant, newsreader and journalist Clive Myrie, musician William Ellis and a portrait of actress T’Nia Miller among others. Historically, portraiture has been very associated and entangled with privilege, and this might be one reason why it increasingly became less relevant in the art world. But the RP is seeing a sea change and a resurgence of portraiture as an art form.

‘Grief’ Wendy Barratt’s portrait of the actor Richard E Grant

Anthony Connolly said: “Portrait painting is alive and kicking. It is skateboarding, surfing and untethered. It has never been more energised. There is also a move away from hyperrealism, from portraits which look like photographs, towards ‘the painter’s portrait’ portraits painted from life which represent the sitter without compromising the artist’s unique vision, process or style. This is allowing for more painterly portraits, braver interpretations of the genre and is opening the door to artists who would not traditionally be associated with portraits.”

He continued: Portraiture is a commissionedbased art from and, as such, the artist is always controlled to a greater or lesser extent by the demands of their client. But we are seeing a greater understanding and appreciation amongst clients of the power of freeing the artist and allowing them to create artwork with the same sincerity they would have with other subjects. Portraits created in this way, portraits which are truly ‘the painter’s portrait, will be the ones that stand the test of time and will be seen as masterpieces in the future. Not those that have been hemmedin by patronage.”

Musician William Ellis by Simon Davis RP
Musician William Ellis by Simon Davis RP

Every year, the RP Award recognises a portrait which best represents its chosen annual theme. The theme changes every year, to encourage artists to think around the idea of portraiture and explore different aspects of the genre. This year, the selected theme is clothing,’ with many of the portraits in this year’s Annual Exhibition showing vital and interesting interpretations.

Frances Bell is the RP’s most frequently commissioned portrait artist and will be showing two paintings in this year’s Annual Exhibition the end of lockdown and Clemmie and Hiccup. Anthony Connolly PRP will also be exhibiting two paintings at the Annual Exhibition, including one entitled Isabella.

‘The Wisdom’ by Varvara
‘The Wisdom’ by Varvara

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters is committed to supporting the ongoing tradition of portraiture in the UK. The Annual Exhibition is just one of the ways the society supports upandcoming portrait painters, providing a highprofile gallery showcase and offering up to £40,000 in awards for selected artists. The William Lock Portrait Prize awards £20,000 to the most timeless portrait in the Annual Exhibition, which has a real feeling for paint and its aesthetic potential. The winning artist will be announced on the morning of May 3, 2023, with British art historian Andrew Graham Dixon opening the exhibition and presenting the prizes.
The other Annual Exhibition awards include;

The Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture: £10,000 plus the Society’s Gold Medal awarded for the most distinguished portrait in the Society’s annual exhibition

The RP Award: £2,000 will be awarded to the artist whose work best represents the year’s chosen theme which for 2023 is ‘Clothing’

The RP Prize for the Best Small Portrait: A prize of £2,000 for the best small portrait in the exhibition, measuring not more than 38 x 30.5 cm (15 x 12 inches) unframed

The de Laszlo Foundation Award: £3,000 plus a Silver Medal for the most outstanding portrait by an artist aged 35 years or under

The Smallwood Architects Prize: £1,000 prize inaugurated in 2016, is awarded for a portrait in which architectural or interior features play an important part