The challenge of creating a great, enduring portrait painting has captivated artists throughout history. But why go to all that effort when a photograph would be easier and convey a more truthful likeness?

It might seem odd that in the age of Instagram artists still opt to conjure a human replica with a brush or pencil. But creating a great portrait – whether painted, photographed, or computer generated – is trickier than it might seem. Artists use their skills to reveal something intimate about the subject. Poses, gestures, clothing, or props hint at the sitter’s psyche. A great portrait shows what an Instagram selfie might lack, namely the essence of a person – not only the physical, but also their psychological make-up.  A great portrait communicates a variety of information to the viewer, including context, identity, and/or socio-political issues. Portraits have the power to spark empathy, create awareness, tell a story and aid in the visual representation of overlooked individuals.

Over the past 10 years, since the inauguration of the biennial National Portrait Award Competition, hundreds of talented local artists have taken up the challenge of creating a great portrait.

Since 2013, the competition (whose rules are based on the long-standing BP Portrait Award in the UK) has evolved and transformed considerably, attracting entries of an increasingly higher standard each year. In 2021 the Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town, partnered with The Italian Art Shop, The Coart and Blue Cactus Artist Residency in Spain to include more prizes such as Sennelier Art Hampers and an invitation to the Spanish Artist Residency. A special award was also given to a young artist, which entitled them to six Zoom sessions with Andrew James, Master Portrait Artist, member, and former Vice-President of the Royal Portrait Society in Britain.

The Rupert Art Foundation also came on board as the new sponsor of the 2021 Portrait Award. This gracious sponsorship included the new whopping R 150 000 monetary prize to the overall winner, a second prize of R 30 000 and a third prize of R 20 000.

The competition culminated in the eagerly anticipated Top 40 exhibition, displayed at Rust-en-Vrede Gallery, as well as the Portrait 100 exhibition, which was shown at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch, attracting an unprecedented number of visitors.

Artists from all walks of life and from all over South Africa have been participating each competition year. With the end of the year fast approaching, artists can now start working on creating the next great portrait for the 2023 Portrait Award Competition.

The five overall winners to date have been Heather Gourlay-Conyngham (2013) from Hilton, Cape town-based artists John Pace (2015), Kate Arthur (2017) and Craig Cameron-Mackintosh (2019), as well as Felicity Bell (2021) from Mbombela. Who will be joining their ranks in 2023?

It could be you!

Digital entries are open from 1 June 2023 until 10 June 2023 and artworks may only be submitted during this time via the gallery website (www.rust-en-vrede.com-portrait-award).

2021 Winner Felicity Bell with Winning Portrait Khulani d. February 2021


2019 Winner Craig Cameron-Mackintosh with his winning portrait Lesala in Silhouette


2017 Winner Kate Arthur with her winning portrait Gemma and Felix


2015 Winner John Pace with his winning portrait After the Match


2013 Winner Heather Gourlay Conyngham with winning work Portrait of a Man

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