National Portrait Gallery, London (16 June – 18 September 2011)
The first thing to say about this year’s Portrait Award is that the standard is very high. There are a few weaker pictures but generally the portraits are arresting and technically very impressive. I confess that I’m always drawn to intense close-ups of faces, which I feel really bring out a personality, and there were a couple of particularly striking ones in the show. One was Jakub by Jan Mikulka, which from a distance looks exactly like a photograph. Only at close range can you distinguish the brushstrokes and see the image dissolve into careful arcs of paint. It’s remarkable; and I was also touched by the sitter’s haunted, slightly sulky expression, which makes him look very young.