National Portrait Gallery reveals shortlist for global painting prize

<span>Lying by Catherine Chambers is an exploration of vulnerability.</span><span>Photograph: Catherine Chambers</span>
Lying by Catherine Chambers is an exploration of vulnerability.Photograph: Catherine Chambers

The artists Isabella Watling, Antony Williams and Catherine Chambers have been shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s annual painting prize.

In total, 50 portraits have been selected for final display as part of the competition, which is returning for its 42nd year with its new sponsors Herbert Smith Freehills. The winning artist will receive £35,000 – one of the largest prizes for any global arts competition.

Watling, a London-based artist who trained at the Charles H Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy, is shortlisted for Zizi, a portrait of her friend. It was painted while the sitter was finishing a master’s degree in textiles. She is portrayed wearing a shimmering, pale pink dress, with visible piercings and tattoos.

Between sittings, Watling would place the dress on a mannequin so she could continue to work on painting the complex folds of the fabric. Her portraits are always painted from life, under natural light and to life scale.

Williams, who trained at Farnham College and the University of Portsmouth, is nominated for Jacqueline With Still Life, which depicts a model with whom Williams has worked for a number of years. Painted in Williams’ preferred medium, egg tempera, it combines the artist’s interest in still life with a portrait subject.

Chambers, a London-based artist who studied drawing and applied arts at the University of the West of England Bristol, has been shortlisted for Lying, which depicts her friend at their home in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Chambers has strong ties to Ethiopia, where she used to live, and its inspiration can be found throughout her work.

Lying explores vulnerability, with the sitter reclining on a bed, seemingly drifting off to sleep while fully clothed in jeans and an Arsenal football shirt. The artist has said that at the time of painting, to “Fly Emirates” – emblazoned on the football shirt – was nothing more than a dream for the sitter.

The three shortlisted portraits were selected from 1,647 entries across 62 countries, with 50 selected for final display. Entries were submitted anonymously and judged by a panel which included the NPG director, Nicholas Cullinan, the Turner-prize nominated artist Barbara Walker, and the actor and podcaster Russell Tovey.

The winning portrait will be temporarily displayed in the NPG’s ground-floor History Makers space, which celebrates contemporary figures. The second prize winner will receive £12,000 and the third will receive £10,000.

Justin D’Agostino, of Herbert Smith Freehills, said: “It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words, but if these canvases could talk, I am certain that three particular words would echo loudly.

“Each portrait is at once bold, outstanding and human in the message [it conveys]. The artists are extremely talented and I congratulate them all on their achievements.”

The prize will also include a young artist award, for which £9,000 will be given to a selected entrant, aged between 18 and 30, to support their career development.