Vera Klute: Hennessy Portrait Prize 2015

Picture 113

Vera Klute (b.1981), Anne Ryder, 2015, Winner of the Hennessy Portrait Prize 2015

Congratulations to Vera Klute, winner of the Hennessy Portrait Prize 2015. We republish here a profile on Vera Klute from the Autumn 2014 edition of the Irish Arts Review on the unveiling of her portrait of Sister Stan.

To be commissioned by the National Gallery of Ireland for an addition to its National Portrait Collection must be the dream of every portraitist in the country and such was the happy experience recently of Vera Klute, the 33-year-old graduate from Dún Laoghaire IADT, whose portrait of Sr Stanislaus Kennedy was unveiled last month.

Klute has been building up her reputation with recent solo shows at the LAB, Dublin, the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny and the Wexford Arts Centre. She has been accepted twice for RHA exhibitions in one of which was her portrait of Oliver Cummins although portraiture has not been the dominant theme in her work. So it was something of a surprise that she was commissioned to paint Sr Stan for the NGI.


Vera Klute (b.1981), Sr Stanislaus Kennedy (b.1939), Social Justice Campaigner

Her portrait of Sr Stan is as plain as you might expect with the subject seated in an office chair with an unadorned background and devoid of any symbolism except for the small gold cross hanging from her neck. True to form, the social justice campaigner is shown with her severe haircut and in trousers – a woman looking worried about the state of the marginalized in Irish society. Technically, the representation is assured: only the treatment of the left hand appears, to this writer, a little awkward.

It is the long-established policy of the NGI not to acquire the work of any artist until 50 years after their demise. Obviously contemporary portraits have to be an exception to this rule and as such they also provide an indication of the judgement of the Director in selecting the artist concerned. Contemporary additions to the Portrait Gallery started in 1998 with Mark Shields’ joint portrait of Mary and Nicholas Robinson, followed by James Hanley’s Ronnie Delaney, John Kindness’ Gay Byrne, Tom Ryan’s TK Whitaker, Louis le Brocquy’s Bono, Maeve McCarthy’s Maeve Binchy, Mick O’Dea’s Brian Friel, Jackie Nickerson’s Seamus Heaney, and Colin Davidson’s Michael Longley.

All very worthy subjects indeed but is it not remarkable that the NGI over this 16-year period has not selected a single visual artist, painter, sculptor, architect or photographer to join its ‘portrait collection that celebrates Irish endeavour and creativity’? JM


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