Dozens of familiar faces can be seen at the University of Hull

Published: Thursday 30th March 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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The University of Hull Art Collection has been in place for decades, yet has recently leapt to new heights of popularity.

Since moving to the Brynmor Jones Library at the centre of the Cottingham Road campus, tens of thousands of people have visited to view a huge range of fantastic styles and mediums.

Adjoining the permanent collection is an event space, which earlier this year welcomed the British Museum in the form of its Lines of Thought exhibition.

Bright, open, accessible and welcoming, this space is now home to another amazing piece of activity: BP Portrait Award commissions from the National Portrait Gallery.


Paul Smith to J.K. Rowling is varied in every way, from the individual artists and their subjects, to techniques and compositions.

In one particular case, the unique frame triggers changes in how your eyes glide over the painting.


The subjects include Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Kelly Holmes, actress Helen Mirren and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

Then of course there’s fashion designer Paul Smith (below) and Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, whose names form the title of the exhibition.



The portrait of J.K. Rowling (above), painted by Stuart Pearson Wright in 2005, is especially interesting.

Adopting an oil on board construction with coloured pencil on paper, Wright has shaped a three-dimensional scene, influenced by 18th century toy theatres.

As you walk toward or past the piece, the perspective alters slightly, allowing you to peek behind the famous sitter and get a feel for her compact writing environment.


Some of the subjects that grace the walls are great names from modern literature, such as playwright Harold Pinter and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (both above).

Meanwhile, others cover walks of life as diverse as aristocracy, businesspeople, engineers and athletes.


As well as being beautiful, striking and incredibly accurate, this selection of portraits has another major draw.

Each artist has won first prize in the BP Award, to then be invited to create a portrait of a public figure making an important contribution to British history and culture.

The subjects are selected for their achievements in the arts, sciences, politics and philanthropy, forming a tribute to our modern society.

The pieces you can see at the University of Hull span a period of over twenty years and form a key part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Contemporary Collection.


As with any exhibition, we recommend that you take your time to read the information beside each piece. It really is eye-opening to discover the context and story behind the sitter and their portrait.

The settings also say something about their personalities. Some are in luxurious or professional surroundings, whereas others are far more relaxed and intimate.

The best example is probably actress Fiona Shaw, who was painted whilst slumped in her underwear at home.


Paul Smith to J.K. Rowling runs until Sunday 11 June and opening times can be found on the Hull 2017 website.

For group and school bookings, please contact the Brynmor Jones Library in advance:

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Published: Thursday 30th March 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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