First winner of £20,000 prize for theatre portrait is named

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The Independent Online

The once-thriving art of theatrical portrait painting will get its biggest boost for years today - from the earnings of Winnie the Pooh - when the Garrick Club awards a £20,000 prize for portraiture to Yolanda Sonnabend today.

The once-thriving art of theatrical portrait painting will get its biggest boost for years today - from the earnings of Winnie the Pooh - when the Garrick Club awards a £20,000 prize for portraiture to Yolanda Sonnabend today.

The major new art prize, to be known as the Garrick-Milne, was launched this year in memory of the author A A Milne. The prize, in value terms the same size as the prestigious Turner Prize, has been awarded for a portrait of the Royal Ballet choreographer Sir Kenneth Macmillian.

John Baskett, chairman of the Works of Art subcommittee of the Garrick, said: "It is the Garrick Club's hope that this prize will revive and encourage the once thriving British talent for theatrical painting.

The club has an impressive collection of portraits and paintings of famous artists and performers, including pictures of the 18th-century actor David Garrick himself on stage. Twentieth-century works include portraits of Sir Lawrence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud, both of whom were members.

In recent years, club members had felt that the tradition of theatrical painting might be a dying art so the sub-committee decided to launch a prize to prevent the genre fading away, using money from the legacy of the children's author.

The competition generated 500 entries and an exhibition of 60 paintings, which will be on show at the auctioneer Christie's in London from today until 15 September. "The judges were deeply impressed by the quality of the work submitted," Mr Baskett said.

The winner, Sonnabend, who studied at the Slade School of Art and now teaches there, is an established theatrical artist and has had solo exhibitions of theatre-related works.

Her recent stage designs include work for the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1998 performance of Tennessee Williams's Camino Royale and she is now working on a design for a performance of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House. Her portrait of the physicist Stephen Hawking hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

A second prize of £7,000 has been awarded to Jim Russell for his painting of Arthur Miller at the Young Vic.The prize will be an annual event, a club spokesman said.

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