For First Time, Israeli Artist Wins Top British Portrait Award

The art prize, which includes a $47,500 cash stipend, was presented to Matan Ben-Cnaan at London's National Portrait Gallery during a ceremony on Tuesday.

Matan Ben Cnaan

Matan Ben-Cnaan became the first artist from Israel to win the British Petroleum Portrait Award – a prestigious distinction for painters.

The art prize, which includes a $47,500 cash stipend, was presented to Ben-Cnaan at London’s National Portrait Gallery during a ceremony on Tuesday in which Ben-Cnaan was recognized for his neorealist allegorical picture, Annabelle and Guy, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The portrait is influenced by the Biblical story of Jephthah, who is forced to sacrifice his daughter instead of his dog after making an unfortunate vow, and depicts the artist’s friend and step-daughter in present-day Israel posing with a dog.

Judges applauded Ben-Cnaan’s portrait for its “unnerving atmosphere” and “engaging filmic narrative”, adding that its “setting and treatment of intense light and deep shadow was much admired.”

Telegraph art critic Alastair Smart wrote that with the “image of a swarthy man, his stepdaughter and their dog in the Jezreel Valley, he [Ben-Cnaan] hints at parallels between a tale of Old Testament cruelty and continued conflict in the Middle East today.”

But Smart added that “with its looming shadows, blistering sunlight, rigid poses and would-be penetrating gazes,” the picture “looks less like a portrait than the billboard for a third-rate TV gangster series.”

British Petroleum, BP, has awarded the portrait prize for 26 years straight in cooperation with Britain’s National Portrait Gallery.

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