Matan Ben-Cnaan, Annabelle and Guy 1980. Oil on board 1200 x 1300mm. First place winner of BP Portrait Award 2015. Image courtesy of NPG
Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan wins BP Portrait Award top prize of £30,000 for his painting inspired by biblical story of Jephthah
LONDON, ENGLAND-Matan Ben-Cnaan, a 35-year-old Israeli artist is the winner of BP Portrait Award 2015. He won the prestigious first prize with Annabelle and Guy, a striking neorealist allegorical portrait of the artist’s friend and step-daughter, inspired by the Biblical story of Jephthah and his daughter.
Matan Ben-Cnaan is the first Israeli artist to win the award that comes with £30,000 prize and a commission. He was presented with his award on Tuesday during a National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London.
Judges were impressed by Matan Ben-Cnaan’s painting not just because of its composition but also because of the tension inherent in the piece. “We were impressed by the highly charged and unsettling portrait in which the artist chose to depict his sitters as though they were facing tragedy in an echo of the Biblical story of Jephthah,” the Judges said.
The story of Jephthah comes straight from the Bible. It is the tragic story of an Israelite judge who led the Israelites in the war with the Ammonites. Overtaken by the fog war, he vowed to sacrifice the first thing that greets him upon his homecoming. He expected it to be his dog. To his horror, however, it was his only daughter who rushed out to greet him. A man of his words, the judge upheld his vow and sacrificed his only child.
For Annabelle and Guy, Matan Ben-Cnaan used a friend, step-daughter and their dog as models. In the painting, the Matan Ben-Cnaan’s friend sits in a chair with his stepdaughter on his left and the dog on the right. Their body language cast a shadow of tension mixed with expectation. That tensed atmosphere is enhanced by the blistering sunlight of Israel’s Jezreel and the shadow cast by the fig trees behind them. There are ominous signs and a realization that something tragic is about to happen.
In selecting Annabelle and Guy as the winner of BP Portrait Award 2015, the judges note that they ” were struck by the engaging filmic narrative of this neo-Realist painting and the unnerving atmosphere that surrounds it. The painting’s setting and the treatment of intense light and deep shadow was much admired.’
The second prize of BP Portrait Award 2015 went to British based artists Michael Gaskell who is based in Leicester. The 51-year-old artist won with Eliza, a portrait depicting his niece Eliza, who agreed to sit for him in early 2014 at the age of 14. Her prize was £10,000. Speaking on the selection of Eliza as the second place owner, the judges ‘agreed that this is a highly accomplished portrait, revealing the influence of Vermeer and Dutch seventeenth-century paintings while also a having a seemingly modern, timeless quality.’
Spanish artist Borja Buces Renard won the third prize of £8,000 with My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening. It is the portrait of his mother Paloma and his brother Jaime in the living room of his parents’ house. The 36-year-old artist captured the family before a tragic event. His father who had been ill for some time passed away a few weeks after the painting was finished.
Judges for this year’s BP Portrait Award included Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London; Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art, National Museums Northern Ireland; Peter Monkman, Artist and First-Prize winner of BP Portrait Award 2009; Simon Schama, Historian; and Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP.
Entries for BP Portrait Award 2015 showed a record increase compared to other years. The award received 2,748 entries from 92 countries up from 2,377 entries from 71 countries in 2014. The increase has been attributed to new rules that allow people to submit images of their portrait digitally.
The benefit of the new digital rule is not just the increase in the number of entries but also the range and style of work entered in this year’s BP Portrait Award. Ms. Pim Baxter, Chair of Judges and Deputy Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, explains that ‘The judges were extremely impressed by the range and style of work entered in this year’s BP Portrait Award, which saw a record number not only of entries but also of international artists, and our thanks go to all of them for taking part and sharing their work with us.’
Beyond the top three prizes, other prizes were announced during the ceremony. 25 -year old New York based artist Eleana Antonaki, won the BP Young Artist Award for a portrait of her friend and emerging artist Julie Laenkhom.
BP Travel Award 2015, an annual prize to enable artists to work in a different environment on a project related to portraiture went to French artist Magali Cazo for her proposal to travel to a community of bronze-smelters in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa. In Burkina Faso, Ms. Cazo will live with and represent the artists, apprentices, and laborers whose lives revolve around the foundry. The sketches made on that trip will be used to develop a series of portraits on wood which will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition.
BP Portrait Award Sponsorship: A Point of Contention
In its 36th year, BP Portrait Award since inception has been attracting artists from across the globe. For 26 years, British Petroleum has been the major sponsor of the award that has become one of the world’s most prestigious portrait awards. BP sponsorship of the Award has, however, been a major point of contention for years. Artists and global warming activists through protests, campaigns and demonstration have advocated that art organization should reject oil company sponsorship. Prior to BP taking over sponsorship of the BP Portrait Award, the major sponsor was John Player cigarettes.
An exhibition of all the winning paintings will be at National Portrait Gallery (NPG) from June 18 to September 20. The show will later tour Edinburgh (October 10- February 28, 2016) and Belfast ( March11-June 12, 2016).