The BP Portrait Award is an annual portraiture competition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. It is the successor to the John Player Portrait Award. It is the most important portrait prize in the world, and is reputedly one of the most prestigious competitions in contemporary art.
British Petroleum took over sponsorship of the competition in 1989 from John Player & Sons, a tobacco company which had sponsored it from its inception in 1980, and has sponsored it since. The presence of both sponsors has triggered protests, with the group Art Not Oil (part of the international Rising Tide network) being responsible for most of those against BP. In 2016, The Museums Association conducted a formal investigation into BP's sponsorship when Art Not Oil alleged that the company influenced curatorial decisions and used its association with the National Gallery to further its political interests both domestic and international.
The exhibition opens in June each year and runs until September. First prize is typically £30,000. In the early years of the century, the prize went up from £5,000, and its catchment area was gradually extended from residents of the UK and is now unrestricted. Until 2006, the competition has been open to under-40s only. Since 2007, it is open to anyone over the age of 18 and a separate BP Young Artist Award is granted to the best portrait artist between 18 and 30.
In 1993, Tom Hallifax was used to advertise the awards.
In 2012 the competition received 2,187 entries from 74 countries (including 1,500 from the UK) of which 55 paintings were selected to be exhibited.
It has become a BP Portrait Awards convention that a single work is selected to be used prominently on that year's posters and other publicity materials, and for the cover of the year's exhibition catalogue. Recent "showcase" portraits include:
Each year, the BP Visitor Choice competition offers visitors to the highly popular BP Portrait Award exhibition the opportunity to vote for their favourite portrait in the exhibition.
The BP Travel Award is an annual award allowing artists to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture. The successful applicants work is exhibited at the Portrait Gallery the following year. Country of each artists project shown in brackets below.