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National Portrait Gallery ends partnership with BP after more than 30 years

The National Portrait Gallery has announced the end of its partnership with BP, becoming the latest institution from the world of art and culture to distance itself from the oil giant.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and Tate have already ended sponsorship deals with BP following environmental campaigns launched by artists and employees.

BP has been the main sponsor of the National Portrait Gallery’s annual portrait award since 1989 when it took over from tobacco company John Player & Sons.

‘Night Talk’ by Jiab Prachakul was among the pieces shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2020


The prize did not take place this year or last year while the gallery’s central London building is closed for redevelopment.

In a joint statement, the gallery and BP confirmed they would not be renewing their current partnership when its contract ends in December.

Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “The gallery is hugely grateful to BP for its long-term support of the BP Portrait Award.

“Its funding for the award has fostered creativity, encouraged portrait painting for over 30 years and given a platform to artists from around the world, as well as providing inspiration and enjoyment for audiences across the UK.

“The gallery is committed to working with artists and continuing to promote portraiture and we look forward to developing the future Portrait Award as we plan for our reopening in 2023.”

Louise Kingham, a senior vice president of BP, said: “We are immensely proud of our role in championing British arts and culture for over 30 years, but the BP of today is a very different company from when we first started our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.

Sir Mark Rylance quit the RSC in protest at its sponsorship by BP


“As we transition to become net-zero by 2050 and help the world get there too, we must look at new ways to best use our talent, experience, and resources.”

Campaign group Culture Unstained described the announcement as “clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s business”.

Co-director Jess Worth added: “The company spent 30 years painting a picture of itself as a responsible philanthropist but it is rapidly running out of places to clean up its toxic image.”

The Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland have already severed ties with BP, while the National Theatre cut links with Shell.

The debate surrounding corporate sponsorship of the arts by oil companies has intensified in recent years, with actor Sir Mark Rylance resigning from the Royal Shakespeare Company in June 2019 in protest over its sponsorship by BP.

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