Highlights of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters 2020

written by Sophie | Exhibitions

NEWS: The exhibition will be live and open for the public at the Mall Galleries from 16 - 26 September. Book tickets in advance here.

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters usually has its annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. The prestige of the society and the location always attracts many artists to submit to this open exhibition and the competition for a spot on the wall is high. This year, due to Corona Virus, the exhibition takes place online only (see news above). So a selection has been made and it can be viewed on the Mall Galleries website.

Of course seeing art online is never the same as seeing it for real. But perhaps we have all grown so accustomed to seeing art online that we don't mind anymore. So very few of us actually make it to exhibitions and so many of us spend time online. Who knows.

The RP's annual show is always a fantastic show that really does show the best in traditional portraiture today (in the UK - mostly). This is where established portrait artists, the ones who don't need to submit to any other open exhibitons, show their stuff. This is where new portrait artists fight (in paint) over a spot on the wall. This is where a variety in style is celebrated, and where quirky and weird hangs side by side with a traditional-but-well-painted college Don.

Of course the quality varies from year to year. As does the hang. But at least we don't have to bother with 'the hang' this year. We can hang it any way we like, while we browse through the images. But overall this year’s show does not dissappoint. The quality is incredibly high. There are fewer excursions to outside the familiar box this year, and more of the ‘bloody good painting’ stuff, which I appreciate. There are many familiar names (artists who have exhibited at the RP many times before).

As usual the exhibition is made up out of works from RP members as well as works from non-members, selected from an open submission. 

It is a shame we cannot browse through the enlarged images on the Mall Galleries website though. For each image we have to click a thumbnail, then see a page with the same info as we had already seen underneath the thumbnail image, then we need to click again to get to larger image. There's no 'next' or 'previous' so to in order to see the next portrait, we have to go back to the index of thumbnails. This is not overly visitor friendly, but it will have to do.

Below I show a selection of pieces from the show. Pieces that appealed to me, that stood out for me. So yes, it's a personal choice, but hopefully you will enjoy my selection and check out the rest of the exhibition on the Mall Galleries website.

Who doesn't like seeing some good portrait art now and then? Enjoy!

Saied Dai RP NEAC, In Memory of Dr Jack Sorapure, Oil 82 x 66 cm

Such a quiet, peaceful piece. The title says enough. The darkness is comforting, not frightening. The usual sculptural qualities and fabulous colour we know from Dai’s work. 

Antony Williams NEAC PS RP, Egg tempera 163 x 124.5 cm

A thoughtful and slightly sad expression in a portrait of a highly successful businessman dressed flamboyantly, sitting in a broken old chair. Interesting combo.... 
A huge piece (note the size) done in egg-tempera and worked into highly detailed perfection. This piece would very much have been worth seeing for real. William’s technique is impressive and exciting. 

William Rushton, Woman with a Red Earring,  Oil 60 x 50 cm

Simply good painting. It looks so simple and works so well. Yummy toned-down retro colours, old-fashioned perhaps, but arresting and very attractive nevertheless.

Vladimir Presnyakov, Portrait of Mungo Reeves, Oil, 57 x 52 cm, NFS

Just like the piece by Rushton this shows plain fabulous painting. Traditional, with no quirky tricks, but simply a fantastic painting, the way we all want to be able to paint. 

Benjamin Hope NEAC PS ARSMA, Self Portrait in Shirt, Oil, 48 x 46 cm

The light, the light! Dancing light in a slightly concerned looking face, where detail was never a necessity as we can say it all with light.

 Martin Brooks, Jago, Oil 67 x 67 cm

Again, simply fabulous brushwork (and note the large amount of no brush work at all) all in support of the expression.

Tim Benson PROI NEAC RP, Hugh, Oil 61 x 51 cm

If he wasn’t a painter, he would have been a sculptor, surely? Fantastic sculptural 3-dimensional qualities in this stark-yet-subtle portrait. It’s a joy to wander over this man’s face, hopping from plane to plane.

Sarah Jane Moon, Nicole and Kai, Oil 115 x 94 cm

Fresh and different, perhaps we can call it ‘modern’ (awful word) but it is always a delight to see Sarah Jane’s work. It simply lifts the spirit with positivity. With a slightly illustrational style, yet very much in the realm of fine art, this portrait celebrates humanity, colour and light. 

Simon Davis VPRP, Ching-Ying, Oil 66 x 44 cm

No idea what she’s doing, but who cares. It’s intriguing, original and fun. The staccato brush marks seem to echo whatever it is that she is doing, as is the limited palette. Wonderfully refreshing. 

Steve Caldwell, Pauline (Winter Portrait), Acrylic 52 x 42 cm

The sheer skill of this. The textures of that shawl, the hair, the skin. It oozes mood and has the qualities of a film still, where we are left to imagine the plot line she just walked out of. 

Please note that the Mall Galleries has the strange habit of providing the size of the art works including the frame. This would be particularly confusing for pieces that are framed with a large mount. I am afraid it's all I've got so use the info with this in mind.


Published: May 4, 2020

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  1. Thank you for posting these. They are astounding, especially so Steve Caldwell's "Pauline". I can't imagine how one achieves that appearance of the knitted scarf and even the knitted texture in her hood. Thank you again.

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