Intimate painting wins Haverhill artist the BP Portrait award

BP Portrait Awards 2017 first prize winner Benjamin Sullivan, wife Ginny and their daughter Edith during the BP Portrait Awards 2017 Ceremony at the National Portrait Galler. Picture by Jorge Herrera.
BP Portrait Awards 2017 first prize winner Benjamin Sullivan, wife Ginny and their daughter Edith during the BP Portrait Awards 2017 Ceremony at the National Portrait Galler. Picture by Jorge Herrera.

A desire to celebrate on canvass the ‘incredible’ bond between mother and baby has resulted in a Haverhill artist winning the most prestigious prize available to a portraitist.

Benjamin Sullivan’s oil on canvass portrait of his wife Ginny breastfeeding their daughter Edith - now aged 15 months but aged eight months when it was completed - was last week named the winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

The portrait, called Breech, was adjudged the winner from 2,580 entries from 87 countries and has earned Benjamin a £30,000 prize and a commission, at the discretion of the NPG’s trustees, worth £5,000.

Benjamin, of Duddery Road, Haverhill, has been shortlisted for the award a record 13 times and last year came third. Breech is now part of the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition at the NPG.

He said: “I just wanted to celebrate really this bond between mother and baby. It’s just an incredible thing to witness.

“Until you witness it, it’s difficult to put into words really and that’s why I put it into a picture. It’s the power of love really. It’s such a strong bond.”

Benjamin, already an established portraitist, explained the magnitude of the award, saying: “It’s absolutely fantastic. Obviously it just raises your profile.

“Even if you don’t get a prize because I’ve been in it 13 times, so it’s 13 times lucky, 300,000 people walk past the exhibition just in London and that’s before it goes on tour.

“I would say 90 per cent of my yearly marketing is that exhibition.”

All the entries for the award were submitted anonymously and judged by a panel which included broadcaster Kirsty Wark and artist Michael Landy.

The judges were particularly struck by the tenderness and intimacy of Benjamin’s composition, evoking Madonna and Child paintings through the ages and the depth of the maternal bond.

Commenting on the portrait, Kirsty Wark said: “The woman is tired. She is in love. Her

life has changed forever. We know her.”

Benjamin’s portrait of the cosmologist and astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 2008.

His paintings often depict family members reflecting his belief that ‘the emotional connection between sitter and artist is at the root of all successful portraits.’