Selected from 2,538 submissions from 84 countries, the judges admired the mannerist style of this portrait, which has a strong sense of a living presence in Schaffer’s composition. The judges went on to say, "the skilful depiction of a combination of several different textures including faux-fur, hair and skin are revealed by prolonged looking and together these produce an image that is traditional, but clearly contemporary."
Schaffer’s portrait portrays Imara, an English Literature student he met after moving permanently to Brighton. Schaffer said: “She immediately struck me as someone who is uncompromisingly open and who wants to learn about anything and everything.”
Sittings for the portrait took place over four months, with Imara posing in her warmest winter coat to withstand the studio’s cold conditions. Schaffer set out to paint only Imara’s face but subsequently added the coat after being inspired by Titian’s Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro in the National Gallery, London, with its pyramidal composition and the subject’s similar attire.
Born in London in 1992, Schaffer studied at Central Saint Martins and then the University of Brighton where he graduated in 2014 with a degree in Fine Art. This is the first time he has been selected for the BP Portrait Award exhibition. Schaffer’s practice is mainly concerned with the act of painting, and how the process that allows the painter and sitter to spend time with one another forms unique and intense relationships.
The second prize, meanwhile, went to Norwegian painter, Carl-Martin Sandvold, for The Crown, a self-portrait in existential thought. The judges were particularly impressed by the "assured handling of paint and keen observation, creating a portrait that had made a memorable impression, and lingered in the mind".
Sandvold’s self-portrait reflects his interest in "the challenges of life, the strangeness of being alive and other existential issues". Central to Sandvold’s portraiture is the belief that we are all trying to reconcile the love of life with the knowledge of death, saying: “The crown symbolises the peak of power, achievement and material abundance. In this portrait, it suggests that none of these things really solve anything.”
Third prize went to Italian artist, Massimiliano Pironti, for Quo Vadis?, a portrait of his maternal grandmother, Vincenza, a former miller and factory worker now aged ninety-five. The judges were captivated by the excellent depiction of the subject, in particular, the sitter’s hands in contrast with the surrounding textures including rubber, tiles and curtains.
Pironti says: “My grandmother is an example of strength, dignity and authority. Every wrinkle tells her story and I wanted to capture her image to freeze time. This portrait is truly important to me. It touches emotional chords.”
The BP Young Artist Award for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 has been won by 30-year-old Brighton-based artist Emma Hopkins for Sophie and Carla, a portrait that depicts the photographer Sophie Mayanne and her pet dog.
Mayanne is known for Behind the Scars, a photography project about people’s scars and the stories behind them. It is an interest that Hopkins shares, she says: “I want to understand as much as I can about what it means to be human. We are not just the clothed person we present to the world. We are the mind and body that we inhabit.”
The judges liked the way negative space had been used in the portrait, and how the artist had refreshed the traditional depiction of the nude with an interesting mutual gaze between the artist and sitter.
The winning portraits can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery from Thursday 13 June when the BP Portrait Award 2019 exhibition opens to the public. Admission to the exhibition is free.