London’s National Portrait Gallery announced today that their annual BP Portrait Award will go to Daphne Todd for her painting of her dead mother, . This comes somewhat as a surprise given that one would imagine that the prize’s sponsor of the past 21 years, British Petroleum, has a slew of PR people working around the clock exclusively to disassociate the company from any images of death — even those that are rendered with a different type of oil.
The work, Last Portrait of Mother, was described in a press release as a “devotional study” of Todd’s deceased parent, who appears yellow and shriveled in a white bed. The painting was selected from 2,177 entries, 58 of which will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery beginning tomorrow. Todd will receive £25,000 ($37,000) and a commission from the NPG worth £4,000 ($5,900). Michael Gaskell took the prize for runner-up, while David Eichenberg won third place, and Elizabeth McDonald was named the BP Young Artist of the Year.
Todd, a former president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (she was the first female to hold the post), won second prize in the competition in 1984. At 63, she has referred to herself as the contest’s “token wrinkly.”
Addressing the startlingly morbid nature of her entry, the artist — whose brother apparently stopped speaking to her after she entered the piece in the competition — explained, “Of course, it's a striking image to come across; paintings of dead people are always affecting.” She added, “I think she looks magnificent.”
The painter’s brother is not the only person unhappy with this year's competition. Environmental protest group Rising Tide announced plans to stage demonstrations outside of the exhibition due to the prize's sponsorship by BP, the oil-spilling company that recently confirmed its continuing support of the NPG as well as the Royal Opera House, Tate Britain, and the British Museum. Yet it seems that the voices of dissent will fall on deaf ears, as the four arts institutions reaffirmed their appreciative acceptance of BP’s funding in a group statement that read: “We are grateful to BP for their long-term commitment, sharing the vision that our artistic programmes should be made available to the widest possible audience.”