Jonas, Medieval Knight, Company of Saynt George (work in progress) by Isobel Peachey © Isobel Peachey, 2010

LONDON.- Portraits from major historical re-enactments in Switzerland and Belgium will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery as part of this year’s BP Portrait Award exhibition. The portraits are by Isobel Peachey winner of the BP Travel Award 2009. Peachey won a £5000 bursary to travel and paint the re-enactments following her winning proposal to record ‘the transformation that participants undergo in living outside of their own time, taking on the living conditions, trade and military practices of the era they are portraying. I have selected two opportunities to paint people from all walks of life, men, women and children who have a passion for the past and all its artefacts’.

On display will be a series of sketches, oil paintings and photographs made by Peachey at two historical re-enactments. The first re-enactment she attended was organised by the Company of Saynt George in June 2009, who occupied the 13th Century Gruyeres Castle in Switzerland for a weekend. The second was in September 2009, a Napoleonic camp at Oostmalle, Belgium, where the ‘Forgotten Ballet’ of Hoogstraten was re-enacted.

Peachey says, ‘One of the participants of the Company of Saynt George, explained that, for some, re-enactment was a form of escapism from the 21st century and in order to maintain the illusion they might be reluctant to divulge their modern-day occupations. The most striking aspect of the event was the breadth and depth of historic, social, cultural and military knowledge that each person brought to their individual roles. They carried with them and related with enthusiasm their own stories, personalities, trades, skills and disciplines, all of which fitted firmly within a comprehensive medieval backdrop.’

The second en-enactment in Belgium was even more impressive. She says, ‘500 enthusiasts had set up their regimental camps in fields and woods a few miles east of Antwerp. Five minutes’ walk away, an arena and ‘battlefield theatre’ had been set up for the grand re-enactment. On Friday afternoon my first encounter with the participants was with the 95th Rifles of the Second Battalion, ‘Sharpe’s’ regiment, made up of Dave, Andy, Dennis and Blakey. They were in costume, brewing tea and cooking dinner around their camp fire. Later Dave showed me the workings of the flintlock rifle and how to prepare gunpowder cartouches, but without the shot, for obvious reasons!’

‘Each long weekend ended with an exchange of email addresses, invitations to future re-enactments and promises to keep in touch. Tents were dismantled, straw bedding turned out and clothing metamorphosed from formal to casual 21st-century. ‘Strangers’ unrecognisable in their civvies would address me warmly. It was hard to imagine that the people I met and got to know so well would have their own modern identity. Hats, helmets and headdresses were abandoned, halberds, rifles and cannons exchanged for car keys and phones. Saying our farewells, I left them to their long journeys home to warm beds and showers.’

Each year exhibitors in the BP Portrait Award exhibition are invited to submit a proposal for the BP Travel Award. The aim of the award is to give an artist the opportunity to experience working in a different environment, in Britain or abroad, on a project related to portraiture. The artist's work is then shown as part of the following year's BP Portrait Award exhibition and tour.

The BP Portrait Award, now in its 31st year at the National Portrait Gallery and 21st year of sponsorship by BP, is a highly successful annual event aimed at encouraging artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work.

The BP Travel Award 2009 was judged by;

• Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London
• Liz Rideal, Art Resource Developer, National Portrait Gallery, London
• Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP


Drummers: Light infantry Imperial Guard and Sapper, Grenadiers of the Guard, re- enactment of the Battle of Hoogstraten, 2010. Oil on canvas (27 ½ x 19 ¾ “). © Isobel Peachey