|National Portrait Gallery until Sept 23|
'...the search for portraits that can astonish with their virtuosity is balanced with the desire to find those that demonstrate real human dignity and integrity', said Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, talking of this year's BP Portrait Award. Auntie is the painting which won First Prize (£25,000).
Does it 'astonish'? I think it does. It breaks every rule about how women should be seen in public. Life-sized portraits are often of queens and empresses, landowners and savants, clothed in the splendour which reflects their importance. Artists and servant girls are also dressed to tell us what they are. Women's bodies, when shown naked, are almost without exception young and idealised, either to make them fit for pornography or to transform them into 'nudes' to reflect the traditions of that particular genre of painting.
And does the subject demonstrate 'human dignity and integrity'? I can only say that this is a woman I would like to meet. She radiates warmth and strength, she is unpretentious, she accepts our presence as viewer without embarrassment and without fear.
The work is beautifully painted, the colour and tone never for one moment faltering, never dishonest.
The artist says 'The fact that she has known me since birth is extremely important. Her body is a map of her journey through life'.