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In this week's blog, Curator of the Jerwood Collection, Lara Wardle, speaks with the Chairman of Jerwood, Alan Grieve, about the history of the Jerwood Painting Prize.

LW: What was the Jerwood Painting Prize and why was it established?

AG: It was introduced as an annual prize in 1994 and was, at the time, the most valuable British art prize. It was awarded by an independent panel of judges which changed each year for recognising an artist’s recent body of work rather than for a particular painting. At the time there was quite a media frenzy repeating the worn phrase that ‘painting was dead and could not stand up to conceptual and installation art or even abstraction’.  

Lone voices in the media, such as the late Brian Sewell, wanted support for painting and it seemed to us it was a perfect moment to restore painting to its historical, cultural and rightful place. Which we did.

The prize ran until 2003 with a most distinguished list of winners and shortlists of six painters. In many ways it is a roll call of the great and the good painters of the period.

LW: Who won the first prize?

AG: This was awarded to Craigie Aitchison RA against a powerful short list of Maurice Cockrill RA, John Hoyland RA, Yuko Shiraishi, Euan Uglow and John Lessore. The Prize was awarded at the Royal Academy Schools and when the then chairman of the Arts Council, Lord Gowrie, announced the winner, Craigie Aitchison was nowhere to be found. Urgent messengers were sent to the local pubs and Craigie, once found, was duly summoned to be the winner.

I hold a wonderful exchange of letters with Craigie in the ensuing years saying how delighted he was that the winning painting was being loaned to King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and later to Hereford Cathedral. His Crucifixion painting, now in the Jerwood Collection, was widely acclaimed.

LW: There were some major art world names involved in the Jerwood Painting Prize - what was their involvement?

AG: Judges such as Sir Peter Wakefield (Chairman of the former National Art Collections, now The Art Fund) and Hilton Kramer (Arts Editor, The New York Times) gave the panel of judges considerable gravitas. The list of artists on the 1994 shortlist and on those between 1995 and 2003 is a most distinguished one. One of my pleasurable rewards being connected with the Jerwood Painting Prize was to meet so many artists who have now achieved national and international fame.

In recent years we have also reinforced our relationships following the Jerwood Painting Prize at Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, with exhibitions of artists, either winners or shortlisted, including Gary Hume RA, Basil Beattie RA and Rose Wylie RA. Many of the shortlisted artists are no longer with us, such as Craigie Aitchison RA, Maurice Cockrill RA, Euan Uglow, Patrick Caulfield RA and Karl Weschke.

One last pleasure was to award the prize to Prunella Clough in the year of her death and so she was recognised in every sense at such an important moment. We are proud to have two of her works in the Jerwood Collection.

LW: How did the Jerwood Painting Prize affect the Jerwood Collection?

AG: It was originally conceived as a purchase prize and works were acquired later for the Jerwood Collection. After 1994 the Jerwood Foundation continued with its 20th Century collection of British art and moved into the 21st century to represent those shortlisted for the prize.

It is totally satisfying that the current exhibition in the Foreshore Gallery Jerwood Collection: Revisiting the Jerwood Painting Prize (until 3 January 2016) is a display of these works alongside important loans which are not currently represented in the collection such as Stephen Buckley, John Hubbard, Gary Hume RA and Chris Ofili.

LW: Are there any artists you would have liked to see win the Jerwood Painting Prize?

I would like to have seen Maggi Hambling win, Leon Kossoff on the shortlist or in the winners’ enclosure, and I just wish that Euan Uglow had appeared again after 1994 and won the prize. I have always felt very great admiration for his work and his approach to painting.

LW: If you had to choose one of the winners of the prize between 1994 and 2003 who would it be?

AG: A hard question. I think I would vote for one of the younger painters, Katie Pratt, who won in 2001. She seems to me to show the viewer deeper meanings than just her dazzling use of colour, and you can find images you don’t first see when you have looked long and hard.

Jerwood Collection: Revisiting the Jerwood Painting Prize is on display in the Foreshore Gallery until 3 January 2016.

Image copyright Mike Fear
13 November, 2015
Written by Lara Wardle