Antony Williams announced as winner of the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024
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Antony Williams announced as winner of the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024
Jacqueline with Still Life, 2020 by Antony Williams © Antony Williams.

LONDON.- Antony Williams has won first prize in the prestigious Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 for his portrait Jacqueline with Still Life.

Second prize was awarded to Isabella Watling for Zizi, and third prize was awarded to Catherine Chambers for Lying. Rebecca Orcutt wins the Young Artist Award for her self-portrait Before It’s Ruined (or an Unrealized Mean Side).

The winning portraits are now on display as part of the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024, which returns to the National Portrait Gallery with support from new sponsor Herbert Smith Freehills. The exhibition features 50 portraits, selected for display by a panel of judges including the National Portrait Gallery’s former Director, Dr Nicholas Cullinan OBE; visual artist, Barbara Walker MBE RA; sociologist and bioethicist, Sir Tom Shakespeare; actor and host of the podcast, Talk Art, Russell Tovey; and the Gallery’s Curator for Contemporary Collections, Tanya Bentley.

First Prize £35,000: Antony Williams for Jacqueline with Still Life (Tempera on board, 1222 x 865mm)

Antony Williams trained at Farnham College and Portsmouth University. Williams’ work has been publicly exhibited for over 30 years, including at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, The Smithsonian Institute in Washington and most recently at Messums London. Williams has exhibited at the Portrait Award on eleven occasions, notably winning third prize in 2017 for his work Emma, and his 2003 portrait of economist, philosopher and social thinker, Amartya Kumar Sen, was commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.

Painted in Williams’ preferred medium, egg tempera, his prize-winning portrait depicts Jacqueline, a model with whom Williams has worked with for a number of years. This work combines the artist’s interest in still life with a portrait subject, painted in the artist’s studio. While the still life doesn’t relate to the subject in any specific way, Williams sought to create an interesting dynamic between the table, objects and the sitter to create an implied narrative.

The judges were impressed with Williams’ confidence and mastery of the egg tempera medium. They felt the composition was nuanced and surprising. The painting sustains your attention, encouraging the viewer to look again to unpack and make sense of the connections between Jacqueline and the still life elements in the background, creating an intriguing and enigmatic portrait.

Second Prize £12,000: Isabella Watling for Zizi (Oil on canvas, 2200 x 1190mm)

Isabella Watling is a London-based artist who trained at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence. Watling’s portraits are always painted from life, under natural light and to life-scale. Her work has been exhibited by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and as part of The Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Prize. Watling’s work was previously selected for the Portrait Award in both 2012 and 2014. She exhibited The Importance of Being Glenn and Gina and Cristiano respectively.

Zizi is a portrait of the artist’s friend, painted while the sitter was finishing a Master’s degree in Textiles. Portrayed wearing a shimmering, pale pink dress by designer Simone Rocha with visible piercings and tattoos, the choice of outfit and the textures of different materials express Zizi’s personality. Between sittings, Watling would place the dress on a mannequin so that she could continue to work on portraying the complex folds of the fabric.

The judges were instantly struck by Watling’s portrait and its assertion of the sitter, Zizi’s presence. Although the work is a clear homage to the Old Masters, both through the materials and methods used and the choice of the sitter’s pose, the sitter’s dress, piercings, tattoos and oversized jewellery pulls the viewer firming into the present day. The result is an excellent portrait that straddles both historic and contemporary portrait making.

Third Prize £10,000: Catherine Chambers for Lying (Oil on canvas, 765 x 1010mm)

Catherine Chambers is a London-based artist. She has strong ties to Ethiopia, where she used to live, and its inspiration can be found throughout her body of work. She has a degree in Drawing and Applied Arts from the University of the West of England Bristol, and her work has previously been exhibited at the Embassy of Ethiopia, at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition and as part of the Football Art Prize at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. She was also selected for the Royal Society of British Artists Rising Stars Shortlist in 2024.

This is the first time her work has been selected for display as part of the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award.

Lying depicts a friend of the artist, at their home in Lalibela, Ethiopia. The work explores vulnerability, with the sitter lying on a bed, seemingly drifting off to sleep while fully clothed in jeans and a beloved Arsenal football shirt. The artist notes that at the time of painting, to “Fly Emirates”, as emblazoned on the football shirt, could not have been more than a dream for the sitter.

The judges admired Chambers’ use of bold and vibrant blocks of colour. They were also moved by the tender and intimate depiction of the sitter, with the artist providing a window into a moment of vulnerability.

Young Artist Award £9,000: Rebecca Orcutt for Before it’s Ruined (or an Unrealized Mean Side) (Oil on canvas, 610 x 455mm)

Rebecca Orcutt is an American artist, holding a bachelor’s degree in painting from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts and a MFA from the New York Academy of Art. She previously exhibited at the Portrait Award in 2015 for her work What Now. In 2021 she was a finalist in The Bennett Prize 2.0 for Women Figurative Realist Painters. Her body of work is united by a determination to examine the absurdity of life and how to find or make meaning within it.

Painted at her studio in North Bend, Washington, Orcutt’s prize-winning self-portrait reflects ‘a specific moment of despair’ and questions the lengths we might go to in order to shield ourselves from the pain of potential loss. The spider web in the background, carefully recreated from preliminary studies of real webs, ‘represents the things we dread to lose’, depicting a complicated beauty and fragility.

The judges were taken by Orcutt’s experimental and punchy use of symbols such as the oversized coat and spider web to create a surreal and performative image. These carefully chosen symbols, alongside her tense facial expression and gritted teeth, reveal a sense of fragility, amounting to a brave and moving artist’s self-portrait.

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