Letter from leading artists to National Portrait Gallery director

Below is the text of the letter sent by 78 artists to the Director of the National Portrait Gallery Nicholas Cullinan, calling for an end to the Gallery’s BP sponsorship deal.

For the wider story around the letter and BP sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery click here.

To: Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

Dear Nicholas,

We are writing to you to follow up on the letters sent to you by myself Gary Hume and other artists before the announcement of this year’s BP Portrait Award winner. You have said, ‘We are always keen to listen to the debate and understand the issue and opinion around funding for the arts.’ Therefore, in a spirit of constructive engagement, we would like to further the conversation, and encourage you to focus on what we believe to be the fundamental issue here – BP’s role in furthering the climate crisis, and our collective responsibility to act.

BP is one of the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas. Despite its acknowledgement that climate change is a problem, and the prominence of BP’s green credentials in its advertising, the company is choosing to invest 97% of its available capital in fossil fuel exploitation and a mere 3% in renewables. We recognise that a 3% effort towards any goal will achieve next to nothing, and this kind of glaring contradiction between words and actions can only remain in place if people don’t challenge it.

Unfortunately, BP’s continued sponsorship of the Portrait Award is lending credence to the company’s misleading assurance that it’s doing all it can, and so we, as artists, feel we must speak up.

A crucial role of art is to describe to future generations what it is to be alive now, and to provide an echo of our humanity to those who seek it in the future. The ethical red lines regarding art sponsorship are always shifting, tracing the curve of corporate behaviour and what’s regarded as the public good. This was clearly demonstrated when the NPG moved away from its partnership with tobacco company John Player thirty years ago, and the Sackler family earlier this year.

We believe that, today, the loss of BP as a source of funding is a cost worth bearing, until the company changes course and enables future generations to make art in a world that resembles our own.

For the NPG to be seen as a forward-looking institution that’s on the right side of history we therefore urge you to publicly commit to:

  • not renew the contract with BP when it expires in 2022
  • start looking for alternative funding for the Portrait Award
  • as an immediate first step, remove the BP representative from the judging panel.

Please be assured that you will have our strong support in taking these steps, and that we believe the number of artists taking this position will continue to grow.

We are looking forward to your response.


Gary Hume and

Ackroyd & Harvey, Darren Almond, Paul Benney, Tony Bevan, Aliki Braine, Don Brown, Henry Christian – Slane, Ann Christopher, May Cornet, Alan Coulson, Fred Cuming, Deborah Curtis, Kenneth Draper, David Eichenberg, Darvish Fakhr, Laura Ford, Anya Gallaccio, Alison Goldfrapp, Antony Gormley, Zoe Griffiths, Andrew Hall, Roxana Halls, David Harrison, Wim Heldens, Georgie Hopton, Rachel Howard, Kenny Hunter, Louisa Hutton, Timothy Hyman, Bill Jacklin, Tess Jaray, Glenys Johnson, Allen Jones, Alan Kane, Anish Kapoor, Emily King, Bryan Kneale, Michael Landy, Abigail Lane, Sarah Lucas, Christian Marclay, Raoul Martinez, Ian McKeever, Alison McKenna, Tess McKenzie, Jeff McMillan, Lala Meridith – Vula, Misha Milovanovich, David Nash, Paul Noble, Clare Palmier, Cornelia Parker, Vicken Parsons, Simon Periton, Mike Perry, Sarah Pickstone, Barbara Rae, Ian Ritchie, Michael Sandle, Johnnie Shand Kydd, Conrad Shawcross, Julian Simmons, Jane Simpson, Georgina Starr, Sarah Staton, Emma Stibbon, Gavin Turk, Mark Wallinger, David Ward, Rebecca Warren, Gillian Wearing, Rachel Whiteread, Alison Wilding, Craig Wood, Bill Woodrow, Craig Wylie