Frankfurt artist becomes first German to win BP Portrait Award

'Man with a Plaid Blanket' by Thomas Ganter © Thomas Ganter.

‘Man with a Plaid Blanket’ by Thomas Ganter © Thomas Ganter.

LONDON – German artist Thomas Ganter was named winner of the BP Portrait Award 2014 on Wednesday at the National Portrait Gallery. The prestigious first prize – in the 25th anniversary year of the competition – was won by the 40-year-old Frankfurt artist for Man with a Plaid Blanket, a striking portrait of a homeless car-windshield cleaner.

Ganter was presented with £30,000 and a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth £5,000. The portrait can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery from Thursday, June 26, when the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition opens to the public.

A chance sighting outside Frankfurt’s Städel Museum provided the artist with the inspiration for his first prize-winning entry, the first for a German artist in the competition’s history. Having spent a rainy afternoon viewing the Städel’s collection of Old Masters, Ganter was struck by the similarities between many of the museum’s paintings and the homeless man he noticed on a nearby street.

The second prize of £10,000 went to Bath, UK-based teacher and artist Richard Twose, 51, for Jean Woods, a portrait depicting the model and star of the documentary Fabulous Fashionistas.

The third prize of £8,000 went to Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist David Jon Kassan, 37, for Letter to my Mom, a portrait of his mother including a written tribute in Hebrew inscribed into the painting.

Ganter is an artist and illustrator from Frankfurt/Main, Germany. His winning portrait of Karel, a homeless man he encountered following a visit to a museum, invites the viewer to contemplate the coexistence of wealth and poverty.

“After being in a museum, I saw a homeless man and was stunned by a similarity: the clothes, the pose, and other details resembled what I just saw in various paintings. However, this time I was looking at a homeless person wrapped in a blanket and not at the painting of a saint or noble in their elaborate garment. By portraying a homeless man in a manner reserved for nobles or saints, I tried to emphasize that everyone deserves respect and care. Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status,” noted Ganter.

Karel, who tries to earn some money by cleaning car windshields in the artist’s neighborhood, attended five sittings for the portrait. After these, in which the head and the hands were painted, Ganter used a life-size doll, and painted the clothes and the blanket before finally adding the artificial flower at the bottom right.

Ignacio Estudillo Pérez, 28, is the winner of the BP Young Artist Award for a portrait of his mother, Juana, a hospital worker in the family’s hometown of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Pérez now lives in Malaga after studying at the School of Arts and Crafts in Jerez de la Frontera and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes of Seville while also attending art classes with Spanish realist painter Antonio López García.

Painting in oils, Estudillo took two and a half years to complete the work, a lengthy process that required numerous sittings in the artist’s living room. After abandoning an earlier effort that he felt failed to capture his mother’s spirit, he switched to a “less forced pose, showing a direct relationship between us” and experimented with several differently colored backgrounds before choosing a “disagreeable white, rather than a white of purity.” In 2012, the Spanish artist received second prize in the BP Portrait Award for a study of his grandfather.


'Man with a Plaid Blanket' by Thomas Ganter © Thomas Ganter.

‘Man with a Plaid Blanket’ by Thomas Ganter © Thomas Ganter.