Royal Society of Portrait Painters

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The Royal Society of Portrait Painters
TypeArts Society
Legal statusRegistered charity
Key people
Queen Elizabeth II (Patron)
Richard Foster PRP (President)
Simon Davis VPRP (Vice President)

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters is a charity based at Carlton House Terrace, SW1, London that promotes the practice and appreciation of portraiture.


Its Annual Exhibition of portraiture is held at Mall Galleries, and it runs a commissions service to help those wanting a portrait throughout the year. Activities include artist Prizes, Awards, demonstrations, workshops, debates and talks.

The Society is a member of the Federation of British Artists.


The Royal Society of Portrait Painters was founded in 1891 by the leading portrait painters of the day. Being dissatisfied with the selection policies of the Royal Academy for its annual exhibition in London, they formed a new body to be concerned solely with portrait painting.

Centenary Catalogue Cover - The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Centenary-Catalogue-Cover-web-299x369-243x300.jpg
Centenary Catalogue Cover – The Royal Society of Portrait Painters

The first exhibition of the society was held in 1891. The catalogue of that exhibition shows that its committee then consisted of Archibald Stuart-Wortley (Chairman), Hon. John Collier, Arthur Hacker, G. P. Jacomb-Hood, S.J. Solomon, James Jebusa Shannon and Hubert Vos. The other members listed were Percy Bigland, C. A. Furse, Glazebrook, John McLure Hamilton, Heywood Hardy, Hubert von Herkomer, Henry J. Hudson, Louise Jopling, T. B. Kennington, W. Llewellyn, W. M. Loudan, Arthur Melville, Anna Lea Merritt, F. M. Skipworth, Mrs Annie Swynnerton, W. R. Symonds, Mary Waller, Edwin A. Ward, Leslie Ward (better known as "Spy"), and T. Blake Wirgman.

Other early members included Sir John Everett Millais, George Frederick Watts, John Singer Sargent, Augustus John and James McNeill Whistler. Women were eligible for membership from the start.

At the Coronation Exhibition of 1911, which marked its 20th anniversary, it was announced that King George V had conferred on the society the status of a Royal Society, and it has been known as the Royal Society of Portrait Painters since then.

The Times said on 22 April 2006:

Of the country's two major annual portrait exhibitions, the one at the National Portrait Gallery in June might be better known, but the one at the Royal Society is surely the more glittering, as it is to the society that many of the country's powerful institutions go to commission portraits of their leaders. [1]


Portrait Commissions Service

To encourage the genre of portrait painting, they offer a portrait commissions service. [2]

Annual Exhibition

Entrance to Mall Galleries Entrance to the Mall Galleries.JPG
Entrance to Mall Galleries

The Society holds an Annual Exhibition, which takes place every year at the Mall Galleries, The Mall, by Trafalgar Square, London.

A major showcase for some 200 recent portraits it is the largest contemporary portrait exhibition in the UK. It is formed by a cohort of work by distinguished members alongside works by non-member artists who have successfully competed to be included in the show. Unlike other shows, the works are entirely selected by portrait painters. The exhibition aims to include the best of a wide variety of styles in painted and drawn media. [3]

Prizes and Awards

Many prizes are awarded via the Annual Exhibition. These include The William Lock Portrait Prize worth £20,000,the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture, the Prince of Wales Award for Portrait Drawing, the Burke's Peerage Foundation Prize and the de Laszlo Foundation Prize, and the Smallwood Architects Prize. [4]


The Society also holds portrait demonstrations, workshops, talks and tours.


The People's Portrait Collection

The People's Portraits Collection owned by the society was founded in 2000 as a millennial exhibition. The idea was to represent ordinary people from all walks of life, and thereby offer a picture of the United Kingdom as it moved from the 20th century into the 21st. Each portrait is donated by a Member and Members continue to add to this collection. [5]

The Collection has been housed at Girton College (one of the 31 constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge) since 2002 as a long-term loan, and is open to the public every day. [6]



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  1. The Times 22 April 2006, previewing the 2006 exhibition.
  2. portrait commissions service
  3. "The Royal Society Of Portrait Painters". The Royal Society Of Portrait Painters. The RP. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  4. "The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Prizes & Sponsors". The Royal Society of Portrait Painters. The RP. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  5. "The People's Portrait Collection". The Royal Society of Portrait Painters. The RP.
  6. Girton College: The People’s Portraits Exhibition

Coordinates: 51°30′23.35″N0°7′49.66″W / 51.5064861°N 0.1304611°W / 51.5064861; -0.1304611