Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan is the first Israeli winner of the BP portrait award, one of the world’s most prestigious portrait awards. He was awarded the First Prize purse of £30,000 at a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in London on June 16.
Ben-Cnaan’s painting, partly inspired by the biblical story of Jephthah, beat out a record-breaking 2,748 entries by artists from 92 countries.
“We were struck by the engaging filmic narrative of this neo-Realist painting and the unnerving atmosphere that surrounds it. The painting’s setting and the treatment of intense light and deep shadow was much admired,” the judges wrote.
Ben-Cnaan, 35, studied fine arts at Haifa University and lives in the Jezreel Valley. His winning portrait features his friend Guy and step-daughter Annabelle at the center of the painting.
“‘Unified by the blinding light, all the objects in the picture become one,” says Ben-Cnaan. “The tension imminent in the moment of realization of the horrible price one must pay is reflected in the composition. The rough wall and rugged gravel echo the grittiness and grief in Guy’s (Jephthah’s) character, whilst the fig tree, casting an ominous shadow, presages Annabelle’s fate. Her strong posture reflects her own resolve and her role, in both the biblical story and in Guy’s life, in carrying his burdens and misfortune. Being no more than a child, Annabelle attempts to process her tragic fate.”
Prize organizers announced that Ben-Cnaan will also receive a commission worth £5,000 to be agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist.