Figure It Out!

Figurative artists working in all media are exploring portraiture. Artists know that a portrait can communicate much more than a likeness. Personal identity, cultural differences, illusory moments—all can be captured through portraits. Portraits are created in a dizzying variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video and other time-based media, even images based on individual DNA. It’s up to artists to figure out how best to depict those close to them.

The National Portrait Gallery invites artists all over America to investigate the contemporary art of the portrait for the third Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, to be held in 2013. The competition and resulting exhibition will celebrate excellence and innovation, with a strong focus on the variety of portrait media used by artists today. The National Portrait Gallery welcomes single figures, groups, or self-portraits, created in any visual arts medium. The competition is named for Virginia Outwin Boochever (1920–2005), a former Portrait Gallery volunteer whose generous gift has endowed this program.

What is the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013?

The competition is open to all professional artists age 18 and over who are living and working in the United States or its territories. Both emerging and midcareer artists are invited to participate. Each artist may enter one work depicting anyone—a friend, a stranger, a relative, a self-portrait, or a group—but each portrait must be the result of the artist's direct encounter with that person or persons. While the human form must be the focus of the work, artists are invited to figure out and interpret the concept of portraiture broadly; for example, an entry might not include a face. The work must have been completed after January 1, 2010.
The winner of the competition will receive a cash award of $25,000 and may have the opportunity for a separate commission to portray a remarkable living American for the Portrait Gallery's collection. The winning artist and the Portrait Gallery will collaborate to select the subject for the commissioned portrait. The second-prize winner will receive $7,500, and the third-prize winner will receive $5,000. Four additional artists may be commended for their work and will receive $1,000 each. All finalists' works will form a major exhibition which will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery from March 23, 2013 until February 23, 2014.
Entries were only accepted electronically, through
Café.org/WESTAF, accessed via the National Portrait Gallery's web site,, from September 1 until November 30, 2011. Entry to the competition—and submission of JPEG images—was be available online through Café.org/WESTAF for a nonrefundable registration fee of $35. Artists who wished to submit time-based media (video, film, digital or web-based work) found instructions for entry on the competition web site. Artists had the option to submit a statement about their work, their particular entry, and/or the circumstances of the creation of the portrait. Dimensions and medium information were also requested.
The first round of jurying will be done online through Café.org/WESTAF. Judges will identify the semifinalists, whose works will be transported to Washington, D.C., at the Portrait Gallery's expense. The final selection of winners and other exhibitors will be made from those original semifinalist portraits. All works transported to Washington, whether chosen for the exhibition or not, will be returned to the artists at the Portrait Gallery's expense. The public will have an opportunity to vote for its favorite work among the finalists through the People's Choice Award.
Please read the detailed rules for this year's competition if you would like further information.

Virginia Outwin Boochever

Virginia Outwin Boochever
Virginia Outwin Boochever (1920–2005) was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby Maplewood, where her father was the president of a medical supply company. After graduating from Smith College in 1941, she became one of the first female commissioned officers in the Navy WAVES. In 1945, she married Louis C. Boochever Jr., a U.S. Foreign Service officer, and for the next thirty years dedicated herself to raising four children and to the diplomatic life that took the family to Luxembourg, Paris, Belgrade, Rome, and Brussels. Gregarious and curious, she took pleasure in learning about the art and culture of the countries where she lived and engaging the myriad people she met.

In 1974, the Boochevers moved to Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Boochever took on a variety of volunteer activities. She was most passionate, however, about her work as a docent at the National Portrait Gallery. Appreciation of art was a lifelong interest: as a young woman she had studied art at the graduate level, and she and her husband were enthusiastic collectors. Mrs. Boochever delighted Portrait Gallery visitors with her knowledge of the art works, especially of the subjects' lives and times, and continued as a docent for nearly two decades. She moved to Brunswick, Maine, in 2003.

Always interested in people, Mrs. Boochever saw the endowment of a portrait competition at the National Portrait Gallery as a way to benefit artists directly. Her knowledge of the portrait museums of England, Scotland, and Australia allowed her to understand the role their competitions play in encouraging portraiture, and she saw the endowment as a unique opportunity to fill a void in the American art world.

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