2011 by Wim Heldens
BP Portrait Award 2011, National Portrait Gallery
Heldens is a Dutch portrait painter and was the 2011 winner of the BP Portrait Award. On the face of it, Heldens was perhaps a restrained choice; the painting is fairly traditional in both style and composition, but it is this deep-set tradition that makes Heldens’s work so quietly successful. The tradition of Dutch realism lies behind both the visuality and motives of Heldens style. Recognising the honestly of such painting, in terms of both its depiction and worth, Heldens continues the Dutch tradition in his own work (outlined brilliantly in his work’s autobiography that is as much about history as anything else). The result is that his paintings have that mystifying effect of the Dutch masters — the ability to capture both personality and life using the crisp line of pure realism. Colour is not enhanced, nor design embellished, yet what we are left with is a quality of beauty that is subtly sublime. Carefully painted and composed, Heldens’s portrait collectively creates the mood of his ‘distracted’ figure. The subtlety of the beige walls and everyday detail of the wires and light-switch creates the perfect setting in which mind is pulled away. Gazing, absorbed and distracted, Heldens’s sitter is unaware, though poised for activity with his creative pencil in hand. The face and hands are incredibly expressive, with every detail of painting, from the three earrings to the slight curl of the collar, carrying of this expressed mood and character.