Into the 21st Century

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Towards the end of her life, Ruth realised that her collection would be of interest to the world at large. Shortly before she died, her son Richard arranged for Dr Robert Travers (Piano Nobile Gallery, London) to visit Ruth in her house in Hampstead and see the self portraits. He was impressed by the range […]

Towards the end of her life, Ruth realised that her collection would be of interest to the world at large. Shortly before she died, her son Richard arranged for Dr Robert Travers (Piano Nobile Gallery, London) to visit Ruth in her house in Hampstead and see the self portraits. He was impressed by the range and quality of the works and suggested that a book should be written to create a formal record of the collection since it contained works by many leading British artists. Ruth’s legacy was confirmed by Philip Vann’s book Face to Face, which examines 20th century British self-portraits and catalogues her collection.

The inaugural Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize was held in 2011 at Kings Place Gallery, now Piano Nobile Kings Place, to commemorate the centenary of Ruth Borchard’s birth. The Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize is intended to reflect and celebrate the traditions which inform the Borchard Collection by encouraging the development of self-portraiture in British art into the twenty-first century.

The biennial prize aims to enable an interpretation and exploration of the self-portraiture genre. Shown alone or within a group, contextualised, abstracted, trailing narrative or defined by the surface of the image, like all self-portraits, these new additions to the genre will explore the idea of visual identity, simultaneously revealing and designing the self-presentation of the artist.

Previous winners of the Competition include Celia Paul (2011), Thomas Newbolt (2013), and Shanti Panchal (2015) and their self-portraits, alongside paintings by Maggi Hambling CBE, Anthony Eyton RA, John Keane and many other respected British artists have been purchased for the Next Generation Collection, as a means of continuing Ruth Borchard’s project into the twenty-first century. These significant additions to the Collection – between ten and thirty works have been purchased each year since 2011 – ensure that the Collection retains the dynamic growth and evolution with which Ruth Borchard began her monumental undertaking, and supports the work of practicing British artists.

In 1965, the artist Patrick Hayman wrote to Ruth from his home/studio in south-west London:

‘I would be delighted to let you have a self-portrait for 20 guineas… I think your idea is a charming one & that a collection of contemporary self portraits will be extremely valuable. (A book on the subject, of British ones, w’d be invaluable). I think it is extremely original and brave of you to undertake such a thing. And originality is rare these days.’

Such a book with the Ruth Borchard Collection at its core, did not in fact appear until 2004: Face to Face: British Self-Portraits in the Twentieth Century by Philip Vann (published by Sansom & Co., Bristol). In this book, focusing largely on the Ruth Borchard Collection, Philip Vann confronts one of the most revealing of all artistic genres in the process of discussing and illustrating work by over 200 British artists.

Since Face to Face was published in 2004, artists such as Nathaniel Davies have been reassessed and Davies’ work has been brought to public and critical attention, with a successful retrospective exhibition in London.