The top winners of the Rust-en-Vrede’s 2023 Portrait Award have been announced. The 1st prize winner is André Serfontein for his The Prince and Princess of Prince Street (Johan & Bongi), Oil on Canvas. The 2nd Prize Winner is Willem Pretorius for Kewpie, Oil on Canvas. And 3rd prize goes to Leanne Olivier for Ann, Oil on Canvas.

This national competition, first initiated in 2013 by the Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town, is a testament to the exceptional talent of South African artists. Now, celebrating the rich tapestry of South African cultural diversity, two art exhibitions have opened their doors to showcase 100 pieces of portraiture selected from an impressive national pool.

1st place André Serfontein The Prince and Princess of Prince Street
André Serfontein’s The Prince and Princess of Prince Street

Top 100 portraits

The exhibitions, titled Top 40 and PORTRAIT 100, feature the top 100 portraits that made it through the rigorous adjudication process of the 2023 Portrait Award competition, which received 850 entries from around the country.

As Hamlin Jansen van Vuuren, Rust-en-Vrede Gallery curator and spokesperson explains, art aficionados can look forward to exhibitions that exemplify top-notch talent. “This year’s showcase will drive home in a very real way, the timelessness of portraiture – its ability to capture the nuances of human expression and open a window into the world of the subject. Our judging panel was hard-pressed to select only 100 portraits from the entries that were submitted – the level of execution and technique was outstanding. We saw a wide array of styles, from photorealistic and illustrative to painterly works and even abstract submissions. This year’s exhibitions definitely warrant a visit to the Cape and will undoubtedly deliver an unforgettable experience,” she says.

Rust-en-Vrede, Spier

The Top 40 exhibition runs until Thursday, 2 November 2023 at Rust-en-Vrede Gallery and Clay Museum in Durbanville, and thereafter becomes part of a travelling exhibition. The remaining 60 portraits will be exhibited at The Spier Trust’s Union House building in Cape Town in an exhibition titled PORTRAIT 100. This is open to the public until Friday, 13 October, 2023.

Entry to both exhibitions is free, although visitors can make donations via a gallery box or electronically, as Rust-en-Vrede Gallery is a NPO.

3d place Leanne Olivier's Ann
Leanne Olivier’s Ann

This year’s judging panel

Each edition of the biennial Portrait Award competition welcomes a different panel of judges to facilitate the adjudication process. This year, the panel consisted firstly of Professor Elizabeth Gunter from Stellenbosch University. Gunter has lectured art at various institutions and put on several solo and group exhibitions, with her work being represented in a number of private, corporate, and public collections both in South Africa and abroad.

The second judge, Dr Rose Kirumira is an Associate Professor at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts at Makerere University in Uganda. Dr Kirumira is an internationally recognized and widely exhibited sculptor and is currently a guest artist at the Visual Arts Department at the University of Stellenbosch. She is a Fullbright Fellow and a Trustee of the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust.

Final judge, Paul Emsley is a British-born artist who worked as an illustrator and creative director before fulfilling a teaching position at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Creative Arts. He later moved back to England to pursue a full-time career as an independent artist with a keen eye for the close observation of the subject amidst the interplay of light and shade. He is, amongst his extensive accomplishments also known for having been commissioned for a portrait study of Catherine, Princess of Wales (then Duchess of Cambridge – 2022).

Emsley, who travelled to Durbanville to fulfill the role of an adjudicator, was astonished at the work presented in this year’s competition. “The submissions were of an international standard. The participants demonstrated a high level of technical ability, not only in terms of photorealism but across a wide range of styles. Choosing the top 100 portraits was therefore quite the task, but I and the other judges are confident that these portraits are nothing short of world-class,” he says.

Portrait Award Rust en VredeAbout the 2023 Portrait Award competition

The Portrait Award is modelled after the UK’s Portrait Award – an annual portraiture competition that is widely recognised as being one of the world’s most prestigious competitions in the contemporary art world. Participants remain fully anonymous until the culmination of the competition, allowing the artworks to ‘speak for themselves.’ All South African residents who are 18 years or older had an equal chance at winning this year’s prize of R150 000.

The winner of the second prize takes home R30 000, with the third prize being R20 000. Additional prizes granted to finalists include an artist residency in Spain, six Zoom tutoring sessions by Andrew James: master portrait artist, former vice-president, and member of the Royal Portrait Society, as well as the Ryno Swart Drawing medal for the best portrait in a drawing medium. Further prizes included oil- and watercolour hampers sponsored by The Italian Art Shop, an acrylic hamper by Prime Art, and a drawing hamper sponsored by The PenCafé in Durbanville.

What: 2023 Portrait Award Competition