There's something compelling about portraiture; something that sets it apart from art, is that it is inspired by larger subjects. It's intimate and personal - it's about capturing the essence of an individual. Sure, some art on larger themes is about that as well, but it's never as personal as the idea of an artist looking at a person and painting what they see, inside and out.
The National Portrait Gallery does what it says on the tin, in that it's a collection of the nation's best portraits, in photography, sculpture, print and paint. And every year one of their largest exhibitions is the BP Portrait Award, which is probably the most prestigious portrait competition in the world.
This year 2,372 portraits were submitted for consideration, from all over the world, from well known, as well as little known artists. You can see 55 of them on display in the exhibition, alongside the four short-listed pieces, and work by last year's winner Daphne Todd, whose painting of her 100 year old mother in her dying moments, won the prize in 2010. There's also work by Paul Beel who won the 2010 BP Travel Award for his paintings on Corfu's nudist beaches.
You may recognise some of the posers, but some of them are family and friends of the artists, so while their portraits may compel you, their names will allude you. Sometimes it's nice just to wonder what might be going on behind those eyes.
Alongside the main competition is the Next Generation competition, which is open to 14 to 19 year olds. The main competition is restricted to artists under 40.