The Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ Annual Exhibition in May

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ Annual Exhibition from May 9-18, now celebrating its 133rd year, will take place at the prestigious Mall Galleries on London’s The Mall, home to the Federation of British Artists, a visual arts charity supporting artists since 1961.

Portrait of Susan Pollack, survivor of Auschwitz Birkenau by portrait painter Laura Arenson
Laura Arenson – Hatred Never Wins in The End. Portrait of Susan Pollack, OBE, survivor of Auschwitz Birkenau

The exhibition is unique in that its collection of painted and drawn portraits, from a national and international submission, is selected not by the art establishment, by celebrities or media moguls, but by world-renowned, professional portrait painters.

With peer-reviewed paintings chosen through the discerning eye and instinctive sensitivity of other artists, the exhibition arguably showcases the very best painted portraits in Europe – both by established portraiture artists and by the most exciting up-and-coming talent. It is one of the world’s greatest forums for portraiture featuring a broad collection of stylistic and intellectual approaches.

Simone Bingemer - Venus 2023 nach Botticelli
Simone Bingemer – Venus 2023 nach Botticelli (model Franka)

With much of the work shown available for sale, and with exhibiting portrait painters available for commission through the society’s Portrait Commission service, the show also presents an opportunity to buy portrait masterpieces of the future.

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ Annual Exhibition is a prestigious and historic show (the first being held in 1891,) which is the largest and most significant celebration of contemporary portrait painting in Europe. The exhibition features around 230 beautiful painted portraits which have been expertly curated by artist members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP). The Society looks to uphold the values and practices of its long and distinguished history, but at the same time, it seeks to explore and develop new artistic models and perspectives.

Kenny McKendry portrait entitled Victor in the Kitchen
Kenny McKendry – Victor in the Kitchen

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. The Society presents the following prizes and awards annually:

  • The William Lock Portrait Prize – one artist will win £20,000 for the most timeless portrait with a real feeling for paint and its aesthetic potential
  • The Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture
  • The de Laszlo Foundation Award
  • The RP Prize for the Best Small Portrait
  • The Raw Umber Studios Prize
  • The Smallwood Architects Prize for Contextual Portraiture

This year, the awards shortlist will be announced on May 9, 2024 (the opening day of the show,) with winners announced on May 16.

Simon Thomas Braiden portrait entited Girl at a Table, Lucy
Simon Thomas Braiden – Girl at a Table, Lucy

President of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, painter Anthony Connolly PRP, said; “No year is ever the same but there is something reassuringly constant about the RP show. Don’t conflate constancy with anything ordinary, however. You will see fresh and sometimes surprising work by painters you know well, and you’ll see portraits by artists who are new to you. Some will be appearing for the first time in a major international show. The RP Annual Exhibition is, more than ever, a welcoming space for both established and emerging talent.”

James Hague portrait entitled Boy with Hand
James Hague – Boy with Hand

Visitors to the Annual Exhibition can buy many of the portraits on display (both in person and online) but, perhaps more interestingly, can commission their own. This means the show provides a showcase of both established RP members and Europe’s most exciting and up-and-coming portraiture artists, giving visitors a unique overview of a broad range of styles and interpretations. A representative from the RP’s commissioning service will be at the Annual Exhibition for one-to-one consultations, and the service is also available online.