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The Holburne Portrait Prize Finalists on View at Holburne Museum of Art
Victoria, by Celia Bennett, 2008 Oil on canvas.

BATH.- While The Holburne Museum is temporarily closed for its exciting development project of restoration and extension, its programme of exhibitions and events continues. This has been made possible by the support of local organisations such as the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, which will be hosting the Holburne’s lecture series, and Chapel Row Gallery, which is to host the Portrait Prize Exhibition.

This year the Holburne has received over fifty applications from hopeful artists for its biennial portrait competition with a prize commission of £5,000. This fantastic response to the Museum’s call for entries demonstrates that the art of portraiture is as vibrant and relevant today as it was when Thomas Gainsborough made his name for portrait painting in eighteenth-century Bath.

The Holburne Museum is well known for its Gainsborough portraits, in particular The Byam Family normally on long-term loan to the Holburne, which can be seen at the National Gallery, London during the Museum’s closure. Portrait painters traditionally have to rely on commissions to earn a living; Gainsborough complained that he was unable to choose his own sitters, so one of the aims of the £5,000 prize commission is to free the winner to choose their own sitter for a portrait which will become part of the Holburne’s permanent collection.

The Holburne’s only requirement for the prize commission is that the sitter should play an active role in the cultural life of the South West. Previous winners have chosen an eclectic range of subjects for their work. Michael Taylor, the first exhibition winner in 2002, chose to paint the jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard. The second winner, Jason Walker, selected the Glastonbury Festival organiser Michael Eavis, and Vincent Brown, the 2006 winner, elected to paint the three Directors of Aardman Animations, Peter Lord, David Sproxton and Nick Park (this portrait also featured life-size images of Wallace & Gromit).

In September a selection panel will decide which artists are to be included in the exhibition. The panel is made up of Jon Benington, Manager of the Victoria Art Gallery, Josie Reed, owner of Chapel Row Gallery, and Director of the Holburne Museum, Alexander Sturgis. The successful entrants’ work will be exhibited from 4 to 28 October at Chapel Row Gallery.

The winner will announced on 17 October by the prize panel of judges comprising the author Victoria Glendinning, John Leighton, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, and the artist and portrait painter Humphrey Ocean RA, whose portraits of Sir Paul McCartney, Philip Larkin and Tony Benn (among others) hang in the National Portrait Gallery. The public will be able to vote for their favourite portrait in the exhibition either in person at the Gallery or online (with the Bath Chronicle). The artist with the most votes will be awarded the nominal People’s Prize.

Amina Wright, Curator of Fine Art at the Holburne notes: “Since the Holburne’s first portrait Prize exhibition in 2002, the competition has gone from strength to strength. The number of submissions and the geographical spread of artists continue to grow, and the quality of the work has been ever more impressive.

The biennial competition and display of portraits have become a regular fixture in Bath’s arts calendar, so we were reluctant to call off the competition scheduled for 2008 because of the Holburne’s temporary closure.

We are therefore delighted that Chapel Row Gallery has agreed to host the exhibition, so that the Holburne can continue to display exciting new figurative art in the heart of Bath. The BRLSI has also stepped in to provide a venue for a series of lectures and talks linked to the exhibition, and a lively education programme for all ages will continue in the Gardener’s Lodge.”

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