'Mila' off to top UK show

Dunedin artist Simon Richardson’s portrait of his daughter Mila, which has been selected for an...
Dunedin artist Simon Richardson’s portrait of his daughter Mila, which has been selected for an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Photos supplied/Gerard O'Brien.
Mr Richardson in his Broad Bay home.
Mr Richardson in his Broad Bay home.

A Broad Bay artist who painted former All Black Anton Oliver in the nude has had a portrait chosen for a prestigious art exhibition.

Simon Richardson's portrait of his daughter Mila is believed to be the first by a New Zealander to be chosen for the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

It is an exhibition Central Otago artist Grahame Sydney called "the most prestigious portrait award in the world''.

Mr Richardson's work, Mila, is one of only 53 selected from 2557 entries.

"It's quite an amazing thing to think that a painting of your daughter is going to be in the National Gallery,'' Mr Richardson said.

"The email arrived about 1am ... I knew it was coming and I just lay in bed that night waiting for it.

"It was quite a thrill for my wife as well, to hear the news. She's quite excited about it.''

It was a significant achievement and great for Dunedin artists, Mr Richardson said.

"[The portrait exhibition is] probably considered the biggest one that I am aware of.

"It probably doesn't get any bigger in terms of a competition,'' he said.

He felt Mila, an oil painting, was his best work.

"It's definitely one of the best.

"I definitely feel like when I finished, it was the best portrait I have ever done.''

It took about six months to paint and he completed it alongside another portrait, of his son Eben.

The dilemma was which portrait to enter.

Mila (7) was happy she was chosen, Mr Richardson said.

The top three portraits would be selected from the 53 portraits on show, and the winner would receive about $62,000 in prize money.

About 330,000 people would view the three-month exhibition before the paintings went on a tour of other galleries in the UK.

Mr Richardson and wife Gepke would go to London for a private viewing of the exhibition the night before it opened on June 23.

He was unsure whether the portrait would be sold when he got it back.

"We're deciding whether we can afford to keep it or whether to sell it.''

Something like Mila might sell for about $14,000, he said.

Asked about painting Anton Oliver, Mr Richardson said: "That's what most people associate me with.''

rhys.chamberlain@odt.co.nz

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