However, in a bout of confusion over political correctness, they decided that if they put a female artist on the list and removed a man they could be found to be discriminating against men.
The four shortlisted artists, whose work goes on show at the Tate Gallery today, are: Douglas Gordon, 29, Craigie Horsfield, 46, Gary Hume, 34, and Simon Patterson, 29.
The curator of the Turner Prize exhibition, Virginia Button, said yesterday: "After they had decided on the shortlist the judges did discuss whether they should have a woman on it. But they ended up feeling it could be seen as discriminatory against men if they changed the shortlist."
The judging panel was chaired by Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate.
However, this year's Turner Prize could mark one change to the orthodoxy in contemporary art: a figurative painter might win for the first time since Howard Hodgkin in 1985. Recent winners such as Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread have tended to be conceptualist and installation artists.
This year's favourite is Gary Hume. A number of his works veer towards abstraction in vibrant synthetic colours, but there are figurative works as well including a portrait of the model Kate Moss, though with her face a blank. Ms Button surmised yesterday that Hume was so struck with the beauty of Ms Moss that he felt he could not convey the experience he felt and so left her face a blank.
She added: "It's very hard to be a figurative painter in the late 20th century, but there has been a renaissance in painting since the late Eighties and early Nineties."
Nevertheless, a visit to the exhibition shows that any obituaries for the death of installation art are premature. Gary Hume is the only artist to exhibit paintings. Douglas Gordon, who came to prominence with an exhibit of Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho slowed down to a frame a second, is represented with more film and video works. One is of the transformation scene, again slowed down, in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde showing the actor Frederick March undergoing his metamorphosis. Another is a video of two hands and arms wrestling on a bed. Both are his. One is hirsute, one is shaven.
Simon Wilson, head of the modern collection at the Tate, said that particular video had connotations of Esau and Jacob, of violence, of sexuality and of a divided self.
Simon Patterson's display includes a transformation of the London Underground map with the names of film stars and other icons replacing the stations. This almost became the first Turner Prize exhibit to be public art. Mr Patterson tried to persuade London Underground to run a series of these posters at stations, but it was considered that this could confuse passengers.
The fourth name on the shortlist is that of the photographer Craigie Horsfield, though Tate officials stressed that while he works with photographs he does not think of himself as a photographer but as an artist. The images he has selected are of groups and individuals in Barcelona. One is of middle-aged people dancing at the last dance hall in the city. It shows the midnight dance where the custom is that anyone can ask anyone to dance and no one can refuse. The expressions captured on the faces are a mixture of delight and horror.
Ms Button said it reminded her of a Breugel painting because of "the density of life and variety of expressions".
The winner of the pounds 20,000 prize will be announced on 28 November. Artists are originally nominated for entry by members of the public, though this year only 74 members of the public sent in nominations.Reuse content