The Big Painting Challenge, TV review: Even Una Stubbs’ saucy innuendo can’t save this show

At Alnwick Castle in Northumberland contestants were given a potentially revealing brief: pick something and paint it

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The Independent Culture

When Sky Arts launched Portrait Artist of the Year in late 2013, they hit  on a combination of high art and low television that deserved  to reach a larger audience. So it’s no surprise that the BBC has finally nicked the concept and launched their version, The Big Painting Challenge.

Portrait Artist of the Year has Joan Bakewell and Frank Skinner as presenters so The Big Painting Challenge needed its own random pairing. Richard Bacon said  he qualifies by virtue of his large art collection, while Una Stubbs (Sherlock’s Mrs Hudson) made herself useful by cooing kind words over the easels.

These amateur artists will need all the encouragement they can get because instead of being allowed to focus on a single discipline, they must also turn their hands to landscapes, still-life sketches and whatever else judges Daphne Todd and Lachlan Goudie think up. The result was to lower the general quality of the work produced, and deprive the viewer of a real thrill – the chance to see competent creatives in action.

Our best hope is that the show can make up in entertainment value what it lacks in artistic credibility. At Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, where the competition began, contestants were given a potentially revealing brief: pick something – anything – and paint it.

Richard, an Army sergeant from Wiltshire, was inspired by Doctor Who to choose a mournful-looking Weeping Angel sculpture as his subject, while briskly confident retired Wrens officer Anthea chose to paint a heraldic lion astride a phallic cannon. “It’s quite saucy, isn’t it?” suggested Una, hopefully, but Anthea hadn’t thought of that.

At least there’s Geordie Jan, who looked and sounded like the third Hairy Biker, but was actually a former police sketch artist. Surely, said the judges, Jan’s experience of drawing against the clock would come in handy during the flower-sketching round? Sadly not. Although, in his defence, it must be rare that a purple delphinium is the chief suspect in an unsolved armed robbery.

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