BP Portrait Award Exhibition Opens in Belfast

Ulster Museum hosts the returning competition after 18 years away featuring previously nominated Banbridge artist Ian Cumberland

The internationally renowned BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition has opened to the public at the Ulster Museum. On loan from the National Portrait Gallery, London, it is the first time since 1998 that Belfast has hosted the popular showcase. This year's collection features 55 works selected by artists from 92 countries across the world.

The Portrait Award, now in its thirty-sixth year at the National Portrait Gallery, is an annual event aimed at encouraging artists to focus on and develop the theme of portraiture in their work. The exhibition at the Ulster Museum includes the 2015 winning portrait by artist Matan Ben-Cnaan, the first Israeli winner of the £30,000 prize, for his portrait 'Annabelle and Guy'.

The work was based on the Old Testament story of Jephthah, a judge who led the Israelites into war with the Ammonites and vowed to God that, if he won, he would sacrifice the first thing he saw on his homecoming. He expected it to be the dog. To his horror, it was his only daughter who rushed out to greet him.

The 36 year old artist said he hoped 'the tension imminent in the moment of realisation of the horrible price one must pay is reflected in the composition'.

BP Portrait Main

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: 'I am pleased to welcome the BP Portrait Award exhibition to Belfast. This is the most prestigious international competition of its kind and it has launched the careers of many renowned artists. I hope that the exhibition will be promoted widely across all communities in the North.

'I urge everyone to come along and experience the spectacle of these portraits, they are a colourful and compelling reflection of our own humanity. I also hope this exhibition will encourage local artists – both established and aspiring – to express their creativity and create works of their own.'

Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art at National Museums Northern Ireland, was one of the six judges who selected the winners and the exhibition artists. She said, 'The BP Portrait Award has long been regarded as the world’s most prestigious and eclectic portrait exhibition. It is almost twenty years since the Ulster Museum hosted this renowned exhibition and we are delighted to see it return to Belfast. The annual exhibition contains a wide range of artistic techniques that will appeal to a wide audience, both young and old.'

She added: 'I am really pleased that this year’s exhibition contains work by five Irish artists – Comhghall Casey, Gavan McCullough, Stephen Durnin, Helen O'Sullivan-Tyrrell and Ian Cumberland. Ian was recently commissioned to paint former Lord Mayor Nicola Mallon’s portrait for the Lord Mayor Portrait collection in Belfast City Hall.'

BP Portrait Ian Cumberland

The judging panel also included Pim Baxter, Deputy Director of the National Portrait Gallery, historian Simon Schama and Peter Monkman, artist and winner of the 2009 BP Portrait Award.

Baxter said: 'The National Portrait Gallery is delighted that the BP Portrait Award is coming to National Museums Northern Ireland once again and that five Irish artists have been selected for the exhibition. We very much hope visitors to the Ulster Museum will enjoy viewing the superb range of portraits on display in the BP Portrait Award 2015.”

The exhibition at the Ulster Museum is supported by a programme of events including gallery tours, curator and artist talks, a street art workshop and portrait-themed family day.

The BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition continues until June 12. Admission is free. For further information and opening times visit www.nmni.com/um.