Nick Hackworth

Garrick/Milne Prize for Theatrical Portraiture, Christie’s

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Now in its second year the Garrick/Milne Prize, with a generous fund of £30,000, aims to encourage the art of theatrical painting and portraiture.

Undoubtedly a worthy enterprise, it strives to restimulate a Great British tradition that saw its apogee in the 18th century with the works of Zoffany and Füssli, and had its last great exponent in Walter Sickert. Sadly, as with last year, the 60 or so shortlisted works are of a depressingly poor standard. As revealed by the BP Portrait Award, year on year, figurative skills are in permanent decline. The subjects here are crudely formed, their rendering sometimes descending into cartoonish mediocrity, the compositions incompetent, the colouring and the general handling of paint leaden and heavy.

This year’s winner was Anna Hyunsook Paik who took the £20,000 first prize with her pedestrian painting, Rehearsal at RADA. Far better was Jackie Anderson’s delicate and ethereal depiction of a Scottish dancer, unfortunately overlooked by the judges. Her work captures the essential impermanance of theatrical performance. The almost anonymous face floats in a sepia mist, with the merest hint of flesh tones providing an intimation of humanity. But her work was an exception.

Not that a lack of quality necessarily means a lack of entertainment. Lovers of West End comedy will be delighted to see portraits of Ray Cooney, the author of the amusing farce Run For Your Wife and the hilariously bad rendering of Elaine Paige in the role of Angele in Where There’s a Will.

Those with more demotic tastes will be equally delighted to see Rolf Harris Prepares to Go On as well as the portrait of Peter Sallis incarnate as Norman Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine.

Meanwhile, more high-brow inclinations will be satisfied by images of Derek Jacobi as Prospero, Ben Kingsley as the Moody Chef and Timothy West as King Lear. Not that everyone was stuck in the past. Lucy Moore depicted funny-man Jimmy Carr, last year’s Edinburgh Perrier nominee. But AA Milne’s legacy, which funded the prize, would be better spent if there was less comedy and more art.

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