The 40 National Portrait Award finalists

WORDS Debbie Loots

The winner of South Africa’s first-ever National Portrait Award, presented by Sanlam Private Investments, has been announced but here’s a peek at all 40 finalists who make up the exhibition that will tour the country. Debbie Loots reports from the award ceremony.

Cape Town’s blustering and gusty winter weather didn’t deter guests in their black suits, ties and beautiful frocks to attend the Portrait Award ceremony on Tuesday night. Durbanville’s Rust-en-Vrede Gallery pulled all the stops for this prestigious event where speeches and sushi went down well with glasses of wine and champagne.

Although it was a 50-something full-time painter from KwaZulu-Natal, Heather Gourlay-Conyngham, who walked away with the mega prize of R100 000 (read more here), 39 other artists made the shortlist, narrowed down from a whopping 1 783 entries! Once the speeches and thank-yous were over, it was time to work the gallery walls and see the portraits that Heather’s winsome nude, A Young Man, was up against.

Studies of the self or family members, as well a couple of famous faces, were depicted in various mediums ranging from traditional oils and acrylic to Tamlin Blake’s intricate and charming tapestry in newspaper, Mamphela Ramphele.

Demanding immediate attention, however, are the evocative, larger-than-life, photo-realistic oil works Swain by Vanessa Berlein and Myself with my Favourite Plants by Susan Grundlinghs, along with Hanneke Benadé’s Looking for Damaraland and Angela Bank’s Professor Brown. Julia Teale’s brilliant portrait of Kenny Kunene The Present of Vermeer’s Future is an ironic comment on SA’s high-flying society.

Quiet portraits also commanded a space of their own, including Sanell Aggenbach’s The Secret Life of a Mathematician monotype on paper and Ian Grose’s broody Mavu and Kyle on Studio Couch. A little beauty is Rebecca Haysom’s self-portrait.

Truly reflecting a selection of SA’s finest portrait painters, the 40 works will be up at Rust-en-Vrede gallery until 8 October whereafter the collection will travel around South Africa to be exhibited in collaboration with the Sanlam Art Collection.

The national touring exhibition can be seen at the at the Rust-en-Vrede Art Gallery in Durbanville until Sunday 8 October; the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery from 24 October to 13 November; Stephan Welz & Co at the Alphen Estate in Constantia, Cape Town, from 26 November to 10 January 2014; and the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Arts during April 2014. For more information: 


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