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Homeless portrait scoops prestigious award

July 09 2014
‘Striking portrait’ by jGerman artist wins BP Portrait Award

A painting of a homeless car windscreen cleaner has won one of the UK’s most prestigious portrait competitions.

The painting, described as a ‘striking portrait’ by judges – 'Man with a Plaid Blanket' by 40-year-old German artist Thomas Ganter – won the BP Portrait Award 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery on 24 June.

Ganter won £30,000 and a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth £5,000.

A chance sighting outside Frankfurt’s Städel Museum provided the artist with the inspiration for his 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.

He said he hoped that the painting made people think about 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,” he added. “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 emphasise that everyone deserves respect and care.

“Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status.”

Karel, who tries to earn some money by cleaning car windscreens in the artist’s neighbourhood, attended five sittings for the portrait.

The judges said they were struck by the intensity of the sitter’s gaze and how every texture and surface was rendered in intricate detail – from the icon-like gold chain fence to the rose in the crumpled paper cup.

The second prize of £10,000 went to Richard Twose, 51, for a portrait of Jean Woods from Fabulous Fashionistas and third prize went to American artist David Jon Kassan for a portrait of his mother.

This year there were 2,377 entries from 71 countries. The best will be displayed at the popular portrait prize exhibition until 21 September. After that it will tour the UK and end up at the Scottish Portrait Gallery.

This year BP's support for the prize attracted protest and criticism from artists and activists who objected to the ethics of the deal.