NPG - Portrait Award Exhibition records

Scope and Content

Records for the Portrait Awards relate to the planning and staging of the awards. In later years when the competition extended its activities to regional tours and the travel awards, more paperwork was generated. The records tend to be divided as follows:

1. Proposal and Planning - including correspondence with judges and applicants; commission ideas picture/judging lists; panel texts and captions; and other interpretive material
2. Exhibitors File - includes biography/application forms sometimes with CV; forms may also include image of applicant and sitter; transport, conservation information and condition reports
3. Exhibitor Images - includes slides and prints of individual works. In early years of the competition, slides were submitted by applicants and prints were reproduced for press and publicity use.
4. Financial Management - including high level budget information; sponsorship details; post exhibition evaluation reports
5. Design and Graphics - including plans; layout; colour schemes; correspondence with designers; contractors etc.
6. Publicity Events and Leaflets - includes leaflets; private and press view cards; flyers; event listings; and other material relating to launches; unveilings; dinners etc.
7. Visitor information - includes visitor figures and comments/feedback.
8. Tour - includes all information relating to touring exhibitions and may contain condition reports.
9. Installation shots - images taken of the exhibition in situ (ie. images of how the exhibition looked/the works on display; rather than images of the individual works themselves)
10. Travel Award - after 1994, the portrait awards would include a display from the winner of the travel award from the previous year. This section includes the proposals of travel award winner and runner-ups; correspondence with travel award winner relating to travel arrangements and display planning; picture list; caption/panel texts and installation shots.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Portrait Award was inaugurated in Feb 1980, when it was sponsored by Imperial Tobacco. It was a competition for young painters, with a prize of £7000. It was conceived as a way of supporting young artists and encouraging them to take up portraiture.

It was required that entrants must be under the age of 40, and their entries must be paintings in oil, tempura or acrylic and be painted from life with the human figure predominant. The competition is judged from original paintings and is followed by an exhibition of works selected from the entries. Usually about 60 works are chosen to be exhibited from over 600 annual entrants. Each year there are eight prize winners. The first prize also includes the opportunity to undertake a commission for the National Portrait Gallery. The judges for the Award always include the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, the winner of the previous year's Award, a senior executive from the sponsoring company, and at least one figurative artist.

The sponsorship of the competition was taken over by John Player & Sons in 1984 until 1990 when the sponsorship was taken over by BP (British Petroleum). For the first time, the preliminary sift of portraits submitted for entry were judged from actual paintings instead of slides. Also that year, began the BP Travel Awards and the first Travel Award was displayed in 1991.

Since 1996 all the artists selected for the exhibition are invited to submit a proposal for the BP Travel Award, an additional Award which funds artists to work on a project related to portraiture. The results of the project are exhibited as part of the next year's Portrait Award.

In 2007, for the first time, the BP competition was opened to everyone aged 18 and over. The prize money for the Portrait Awards has now increased to £25,000, and there are additional prizes for runners up and the sponsorship makes it possible for the exhibition to be free to the public.

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Other Finding Aids

The complete catalogue for this archive can be searched via the NPG Archive Catalogue .

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.