Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan wins £30,000 National Portrait Gallery award


The National Portrait Gallery has awarded its prestigious BP Portrait Award to an Israeli artist for the first time.

Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan, 35, won the prize for his work Annabelle and Guy, a portrait of the artist’s friend and step-daughter who “can be seen contemplating their fate in the sunlight of Israel’s Jezreel Valley”, according to the NPG.

A spokesperson for the gallery said: “The judges were impressed by the highly charged and unsettling portrait in which the artist chose to depict his sitters as though they were facing tragedy in an echo of the biblical story of Jephthah.

“In this story an Israelite judge vowed on entering battle that should he win, he will sacrifice the first thing that greets him upon his home-coming, believing it to be a dog.

“However, on his return, it is his daughter who rushes out in welcome.

“Realising the tragic mistake he has made, he upholds his vow and sacrifices his child.”

Speaking about his portrait Mr Ben-Cnaan said: “Unified by the blinding light, all the objects in the picture become one.

“The tension imminent in the moment of realisation 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 story and in Guy’s life, in carrying his burdens and misfortune.

“Being just a child, Annabelle attempts to process her tragic fate.”

Mr Ben-Cnaan, who is from the north of Israel, and studied fine arts at Haifa University, was presented with a £30,000 prize and a further commission from the National Portrait Gallery worth £5,000.

The award-winning portrait can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery from Thursday 18 June when the BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition opens to the public.

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