NPG director wins visual arts ‘Oscar’

Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, has won the Critics’ Circle Visual Arts Award for 2023 for services to the visual arts in recognition of the £41.3m resetting of the gallery, which re-opened in June.

The portrait gallery, the brainchild of the historians Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington Macaulay and the first in the world, began as a collection of the pictorial record of Victorian British achievers and had gradually become more of a representation of the nation’s profile with portraits commissioned and included as much for the quality of the painting or photography as for the subject. Cullinan’s latest transformation includes prints and absorbs photographs into the main exhibition for the first time, welcoming the newest technology, as well as a new entrance.

Image shows main award winner Nicholas Cullinan with the trophy created by ceramicist Adi Adivani

The presentation was made at the Saatchi Gallery during the British Art Fair (the event’s partner) when the chair of the Critics’ Circle Visual Arts and Architecture Section announced that the intention was for the awards to become the pre-eminent prize for visual art.

“We are planning to build our awards ceremony into – in effect – the Oscars of the British art world”, said Alex Leith. “Our partnership with British Art Fair and our addition of two major new awards are sizeable stepping-stones to achieving this ambition. These are exciting times for the Critics’ Circle, and for the art industry as a whole.”

The award was first presented in 2011 and previous winners include Frank Bowling, Iwona Blazwick and David Chipperfield.

Each year the winner of the main award is presented with a unique work of art commissioned from a young artist, and this year’s award was created by Adi Adivani, a post graduate ceramicist at the Royal College of Art.

The Denise Sylvester-Carr Unsung Hero award was presented to Nicholas Easthaugh, an authority on the research of historical pigments and founder of Pigment Project which created the standard reference analytical data on ancient pigments, and whose work has led advances in the detection of forgeries.

A new award for 2023 was the public gallery exhibition of the year, won by the National Gallert for St Francis of Assisiwhich included representations of the saint across the centuries from Botticelli to Stanley Spencer. 

Also presented for the first time was the private gallery of the year which went to the Philip Mould Gallery for the show Without Hands: The Art of Sarah Biffin. The exhibition was co-curated by the artist Alison Lapper who, like Biffin in the 18th century, was born with vestigial arms.  


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