The prize for artists who prefer painting to pickling

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The Independent Online
Britain's biggest art prize will be judged tomorrow. But you are unlikely to have heard of it - even less to see much written about it.

The Jerwood Prize comprises a pounds 30,000 award for painting, making it, against the Turner's pounds 20,000, the most lucrative in British contemporary art. Yet the Turner Prize, with its pickled sheep and enfant terrible entrants, has consistently stolen the headlines.

The Turner, although it includes paintings, tends to favour the more fashionable and controversial conceptual and installation art. The artists on last year's shortlist, for example, had between them staged exhibitions featuring human bones, a sleeping actress, a video of naked men in the bath, and photographs of objects being thrown over the cliffs at Dover. There was not a single painter on the shortlist.

Organisers say one of the objectives of the Jerwood Prize is to provide a counterpoint, and highlight the quality of painting in Britain. Patricia Morison, development director of the Jerwood Foundation, which sponsors the prize, said yesterday that the Jerwood hoped to raise the profile of painting - a "quieter", but just as vibrant art.

Painting, she said, often did not get the space it deserved in galleries, or the acclaim from the wider public. "It's a bit like saying poetry is overlooked if you compared it to the novel. The novel surely gets a higher profile."

The prize was set up four years ago by the 20-year-old Jerwood Foundation, a private trust which supports arts, education, design and medicinal initiatives. Organisers said of it at the time: "The Jerwood shortlisted artists cannot, thankfully, be emblazoned as `Young British', but what they produce is just as much of the here and now as pickled sheep and concrete houses."

A distinguishing feature of the Jerwood, according to organisers, is that its judges are "strongly weighted" towards the academic, and are different every year. "There's plenty of space for people to make judgements unaffected by what is current fashion," Dr Morison said.

Unlike the Turner, the most controversy it has attracted came in 1995 when judges were unable to agree on a winner, and instead chose to split the prize between two of Britain's best known painters, Maggie Hambling and Patrick Caulfield.

Perhaps inevitably, in a contemporary art scene still dominated by the conceptual, the prize was initially criticised for being too "safe" and "middlebrow". This year, however, the shortlist is unlikely to attract such descriptions; it even includes a former Turner shortlisted artist - Gary Hume.

Other artists on the shortlist are: Jane Harris; Louise Hopkins, Maria Lalic; Jason Martin; Joanna Price; James Rielly; Madeleine Strindberg and Rose Wylie. They may be names unknown to the general public, but, as Dr Morison points out, even the most popular pursuits are unlikely to be followed by everyone. "Millions of people know the names of footballers, whereas the other half don't have a clue," she said.

The list has been narrowed down from nearly 1,000 submitted paintings. The judging is due to take place today, although the winner will not be announced until 29 September.

An exhibition of work from the nine candidates will be held at the Lethaby Galleries, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London from 30 September.

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