Audrey Hepburn is very popular. If you plan to visit the National Portrait Gallery to see the eponymous exhibition then make sure you book tickets. I didn’t and so headed off to see the BP Portrait Award display instead. Every year for the past 36 years anybody over the age of 18 can enter this competition designed to encourage the art of portraiture.
Walking through the galleries of the National Portrait Gallery is either like a stroll through a history book or, in the more contemporary galleries, like flicking through Hello magazine. This exhibition is neither because the people depicted are by and large not famous. Young, old, naked and clothed they are all here. Some are so pin point accurate that you need to look very carefully to see that they are not photographs. Others have swirls of paint and blotches to augment the sitter.
If you disagree with the judges, you can vote for own favourite and at the end of the exhibition the people’s favourite will be unveiled. My vote has gone to Hamish and Sophie Forsyth by Nancy Fletcher. This double portrait is two pictures in one frame; he sits in a room with warm fancy wallpaper surrounded by his furled black umbrella, cricket bat and cabbages. She graces an altogether cooler and more ordered room surrounded by pictures of her children and piles of books.
Should you be visiting the National Portrait Gallery for Audrey or any other reason, take time to see work of the next generation of portrait artists. The day I visited was a gloomy one and so I opted to take tea in the magnificent undercroft of St Martins-in-the-Fields, where the weather outside never intrudes.
BP PORTRAIT AWARD 2015
National Portrait Gallery, Saint Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
Opening daily 10am – 6pm (Thursday and Friday until 9pm)