Della Cowper-Gray, winner of the 2021 Zurich Young Portrait Prize, Neil Freshwater, Zurich

Della Cowper-Gray, winner of the 2021 Zurich Young Portrait Prize and Neil Freshwater, Zurich

The Zurich Portrait Prize and Zurich Young Portrait Prize have renewed public interest in contemporary portraiture and have developed a national reach for the competition by partnering with both the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. When the partnership began in 2018 it was clear that the Portrait Prize was already a landmark competition in the cultural calendar.

Applicants have pushed the boundaries of portraiture with their submissions, with the 2021 shortlist featuring a sculptural work made from the artist’s hair, dust, and detritus, and a photograph of a park bench in memory of the subject referred to in the title of the work. This is reinforced by the judging process, with competition judges interested in ‘challenges’ to the understanding of a ‘portrait’.

Together, the National Gallery and Zurich developed the concept of the Zurich Young Portrait Prize as an accessible and all-inclusive competition for children and young people of all abilities. The Prize has grown in credibility and visibility, with shortlisted works now hanging side-by-side with the Zurich Portrait Prize in the National Gallery of Ireland’s Portrait Gallery and featuring in the catalogue. In 2021, applications were received from 30 counties in Ireland – demonstrating the broad reach across the country.

For Laura Slattery, journalist with The Irish Times and a member of the Judging Panel, it is this dedication to discovering and promoting new portrait artists that made this partnership stand out. ‘Together, they have spurred creativity, rewarded excellence in the visual arts, and been adept and innovative in how they
promoted new talent to a wider audience,’ she says.

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