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Portrait Award to showcase Top 100 works at two prestigious exhibitions in Cape Town

This national competition, first initiated in 2013 by the Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town, is a testament to the exceptional talent and creative prowess of South African artists.
Portrait Award

Celebrating the rich tapestry of South African artistry and cultural diversity, two remarkable art exhibitions are set to open their doors to the public to showcase 100 pieces of portraiture selected from an impressive national pool. These exhibitions, titled “Top 40” and “PORTRAIT 100”, feature the top 100 portraits that made it through the rigorous adjudication process of the 2023 Portrait Award competition, which received 850 entries from around the country.

This national competition, first initiated in 2013 by the Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town, is a testament to the exceptional talent and creative prowess of South African artists.

As Hamlin Jansen van Vuuren, Rust-en-Vrede Gallery curator and spokesperson explains, art aficionados can look forward to exhibitions that exemplify top-notch talent. “This year’s showcase will drive home in a very real way, the timelessness of portraiture – its ability to capture the nuances of human expression and open a window into the world of the subject. Our judging panel was hard-pressed to select only 100 portraits from the entries that were submitted – the level of execution and technique was outstanding. We saw a wide array of styles, from photorealistic and illustrative to painterly works and even abstract submissions. This year’s exhibitions definitely warrant a visit to the Cape and will undoubtedly deliver an unforgettable experience,” she says.

Save these dates
The Top 40 exhibition will take place from Saturday 2 September – Thursday 2 November 2023 at Rust-en-Vrede Gallery and Clay Museum in Durbanville and will thereafter become part of a travelling exhibition. The remaining 60 portraits will be exhibited at The Spier Trust’s Union House building in Cape Town in an exhibition titled PORTRAIT 100, open to the public from Monday 4 September 2023 – Friday 13 October 2023.

This year’s judging panel
Each edition of the biennial Portrait Award competition welcomes a different panel of judges to facilitate the adjudication process. This year, the panel consisted firstly of Professor Elizabeth Gunter from Stellenbosch University. Gunter has lectured art at various institutions and put on several solo and group exhibitions, with her work being represented in a number of private, corporate, and public collections both in South Africa and abroad.

The second judge, Dr Rose Kirumira is an Associate Professor at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts at Makerere University in Uganda. Dr Kirumira is an internationally recognized and widely exhibited sculptor and is currently a guest artist at the Visual Arts Department at the University of Stellenbosch. She is a Fullbright Fellow and a Trustee of the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust.

Final judge, Paul Emsley is a British-born artist who worked as an illustrator and creative director before fulfilling a teaching position at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Creative Arts. He later moved back to England to pursue a full-time career as an independent artist with a keen eye for the close observation of the subject amidst the interplay of light and shade. He is, amongst his extensive accomplishments also known for having been commissioned for a portrait study of Catherine, Princess of Wales (then Duchess of Cambridge – 2022).

Emsley, who travelled to Durbanville to fulfill the role of an adjudicator, was astonished at the work presented in this year’s competition. “The submissions were of an international standard. The participants demonstrated a high level of technical ability, not only in terms of photorealism but across a wide range of styles. Choosing the top 100 portraits was therefore quite the task, but I and the other judges are confident that these portraits are nothing short of world-class,” he says.

About the 2023 Portrait Award competition
The Portrait Award is modelled after the UK’s Portrait Award – an annual portraiture competition that is widely recognised as being one of the world’s most prestigious competitions in the contemporary art world. Participants remain fully anonymous until the culmination of the competition, allowing the artworks to ‘speak for themselves.’ All South African residents who are 18 years or older have an equal chance at winning this year’s prize of R150 000.

The winner of the second prize will take home R30 000, with the third prize being R20 000. Additional prizes granted to finalists include an artist residency in Spain, six Zoom tutoring sessions by Andrew James: master portrait artist, former vice-president, and member of the Royal Portrait Society, as well as the Ryno Swart Drawing medal for the best portrait in a drawing medium. Further prizes will include oil- and watercolour hampers sponsored by The Italian Art Shop, an acrylic hamper by Prime Art, and a drawing hamper sponsored by The PenCafé in Durbanville.

Exhibitions open to all
Entry to both exhibitions is free of charge, although visitors are welcome to make donations via the box in the gallery or electronically, as Rust-en-Vrede Gallery is a registered non-profit organisation (NPO).

As Jansen van Vuuren concludes: “The forthcoming exhibitions will showcase a tapestry of humanity. Each canvas is a mirror reflecting not only the subject’s visage but also the profound stories and emotions of the sitter, conveyed by the artists with a sense of deep admiration and pride. This year’s portraits transcend the realm of physical representation and really capture the richness of human experience. We welcome all to join us as we celebrate the diverse and exceptional talent of these artists.”


1st prize winner:
André Serfontein
The Prince and Princess of Prince Street (Johan & Bongi)
Oil on Canvas

2nd Prize Winner:
Willem Pretorius
Oil on Canvas

3rd prize winner:
Leanne Olivier
Oil on Canvas


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