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The oil painting that Matan has entered. Credit: Matan Ben-Cnaan

An oil painting inspired by a Bible story has won a prestigious £30,000 portrait prize.

Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan picked up the BP Portrait Award for his work, for Annabelle and Guy, which shows his friend and step-daughter sitting in the sun with their pet dog.

The judges described it as a “highly charged and unsettling portrait”, and it goes on show at the National Portrait Gallery in central London from Thursday.

Matan in front of his portrait, with his award. (Credit: Matan Ben-Canaan)

Matan in front of his portrait, with his award. (Credit: Matan Ben-Canaan)

Its deputy director Pim Baxter, who chaired the judging panel, said they were impressed by the “range and style of work” entered for the award.

She said: “We were all drawn to the winning portrait by Matan Ben-Cnaan at a very early stage, the quality of light is extraordinary, together with the intensity of the gaze of the subjects.”

Matan told Jewish News: “It was such an honour. I was moved and exited to receive the prize from Simon Schama. It sure was a night never to be forgotten”.

“It will take me a while to understand what has happened.”

The picture deliberately echoes the story of Jephthah, from the Old Testament book of Judges, who had to kill his daughter after vowing to sacrifice the first thing that greeted him at home in return for victory in battle. He made the vow expecting his dog would greet him only for his daughter to rush out to welcome him.

The Israeli artist was also presented with a commission from the gallery worth £5,000.

With over 2500 other entrants from nearly 100 countries – the competition identifies the best portrait painters in the world.