On Friday 29 September the Critics’ Circle held our annual visual arts award for 2023 at the Saatchi Gallery, hosted by the British Art Fair.

Over 80 art insiders from national institutions, major museums and art galleries – alongside esteemed critics – were at the ceremony. Alex Leith, Chair of the Visual Arts Section since 2022, stated that: “We are planning to build our awards ceremony into – in effect – the Oscars of the British art world. Our partnership with British Art Fair and our addition of two major new awards are sizeable stepping-stones to achieving this ambition. These are exciting times for the Critics’ Circle, and for the art industry as a whole.”

Entertainment was provided by artist-poet-academic Gary Goodman (pictured above) whose good humoured digs at critics and often scatological musings were met with both smiles and frowns, leaving opinions divided – exactly what you’d expect from a room full of critics who enjoy being challenged. Critics’ Circle President Robert Thicknesse gave a short, sharp speech analysing the role of art critics in the twenty-first century on how they’re often maligned and yet how important they are as well.

And the winners are …

Services to the Arts Award
The winner of the Services to the Arts Award was Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, who has overseen a spectacular refurbishment of the venue, which came in on time, and within budget, despite the restrictions caused by the Covid epidemic. Cullinan was handed the award by Nico Kos Earle, Vice Chair of the Critics’ Circle Visual Arts Section. The award was won last year by Iwona Blazwick; previous winners include Sir Frank Bowling and Thomas Heatherwick.

Public Gallery Exhibition of the Year Award
Winner of the inaugural Public Gallery Exhibition of the Year Award was the National Gallery exhibition St Francis of Assisi, which closed in July, having garnered rave reviews from national critics. The show brought together representations from the life of St Francis from the 13th century to the 21st, with works from Botticelli, Zurburan, Caravaggio, Stanley Spencer and Antony Gormley, inter alia. Co-curator Joost Joustra (pictured with The National Gallery team) was on hand to accept the award. Will Ramsay, founder of The Affordable Art Fair and Ramsay Fairs (which owns British Art Fair) was present to give him the trophy.

Private Gallery of the Year Award
A popular winner of the inaugural Private Gallery of the Year Award was the Philip Mould Gallery for the show Without Hands: The Art of Sarah Biffin. Philip is co-host of the hit BBC series Fake or Fortune.

Unsung Hero Award
The Denise Sylvester-Carr Award for Unsung Hero was accepted by Nicholas Eastaugh, expert on the techniques and materials of paintings. Previous winners include Artist Support Pledge founder Matthew Burrows and Dr Fred Hohler.

British Art Fair SOLO Contemporary Artist Award 2023
Will Ramsay, CEO Ramsay Fairs awarded a prize, sponsored by Winsor & Newton and Contemporary Art Academy, for the best artist in the SOLO Contemporary section of British Art Fair 2023. The winner – chosen by a panel of experts – was Emma Bennett, shown by Zavier Ellis, of CHARLIE SMITH LONDON.. Pictured left to right are Zavier Ellis, Emma Bennett and Will Ramsay.

The trophies were designed by Royal College of Art Ceramics & Glass 2023 graduate Adi Avidani (pictured below with Nicholas Cullinan), who was chosen by Corinne Julius.

The Critics’ Circle Visual Arts Awards was organised in partnership with British Art Fair, and took place in a gallery space displaying the exhibition Crossing Borders: Internationalism in British Art, with works by Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Magda Cordell McHale and Charlie Phillips, inter alia, co-curated by Colin Gleadell and Monica Bohm-Duchen.

The wine on offer – from Pommery and Nutbourne Vineyard in Sussex – was organised by Dominic Buckwell, from the Court of Master Sommeliers and Circle of Wine Writers.

All photographs copyright Todd White photography.