Portrait Painter is the People’s Prize Winner at the Harley Open

Portrait Painter is the People’s Prize Winner at the Harley Open

An award winning portrait painter’s study of a seated man has been voted for as the favourite piece to claim the People’s Prize at the Harley Open.


Chosen purely by visitors to the Harley Open – which runs until 20 August – the winning piece entitled ‘Justin’ is by Cheshire based artist Cathy Thomas, and is a painting of her husband.

A ‘heat finalist’ on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year, Cathy also previously won the People’s Prize in the Harley Open in 2013.

On her winning painting, Cathy said: “I have wanted to paint my husband for a while as he has such an expressive face and weathered hands. Although he has a look of patience in his eyes I think you can tell he is a reluctant sitter and doesn’t relish the scrutiny.

“I can understand why a portrait painting won The People’s Prize.  We are drawn to images of faces and connect with the emotion that can be gleaned from facial expressions,  body positions and background. The subject matter and the emotion that it communicates is the most important part of my paintings and this is why I focus on the human form.”

Cathy worked as an illustrator and taught Art for 15 years but stopped painting for about ten years before becoming inspired upon seeing a portrait hanging in The National Portrait Gallery in London.  The sincerity of the portrait by Stuart Pearson Wright prompted her to start painting again.

Cathy said: “I was so pleased to hear that I had won the People’s Prize for The Harley Open as I felt the standard of work was so high and so varied this year.  But it is lovely to know that those who visited the exhibition liked my painting and it makes me feel that I am doing something right. I try very hard to improve my technical practice every time that I pick up a brush, but most importantly I try to connect with the viewer using mood or emotion with my painting.  It is fascinating to see how an audience can interpret the mood of a sitter so differently and it is this that compels me to paint portraits.”

The ‘People’s Prize’ of £250 is sponsored by Child First at Welbeck, a new nursery based on the Welbeck Estate offering ‘A rich mixture of educational and cultural experiences such as arts and crafts, gardening, baking and yoga’.

There’s still the chance to see the People’s Prize painting alongside the other 103 entries in the Harley Open, which runs until 20 August.

With works from artists based in Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Chesterfield, Sheffield, Mansfield, Lincoln, Matlock and Worksop (see full list of entries from each area here) and the surrounding counties, the exhibition is a showcase of the wealth of artistic talent to be found across in the East Midlands and Yorkshire. From paintings in oils and watercolours through to abstract photographs and screenprints, etchings and linocuts, the show is full of delightful surprises.

The other winners chosen by the panel of judges were:

Harley Prize:                        Jéréme Crow, Dom with Indian Yellow

Judges’ Prize:                                     Emma Fineman, R.R Woman
Judges’ Commendation:                     Holger Martin, Main Pool
The School of Artisan Food Prize:                          Nicola Davison-Reed,  #TheDance
The School of Artisan Food Commendation:          Isabelle Priest, Reflections
Welbeck Farm Shop Prize:                    Lois Wallace, Secret Place
Storycatcher’s Prize:                           Clay Smith, Mediterranean Gothic

Winner of overall prize was painter Jéréme Crow with his piece ‘Dom with Indian Yellow’. Jéréme can now look forward to staging his work in a solo show at the gallery in 2019.
He said: “This is incredible news, I am absolutely thrilled to have my painting recognised in this way by the judges and especially considering all the other exceptional works in the exhibition. I had been eagerly looking forward to entering the Harley biennial open for some time and to be selected to have my painting on display within only yards of The Portland Collection and works by some of the greatest painters from the history of art is the greatest award.”

For more information, visit www.harleygallery.co.uk

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