Blog, Exhibitions

Cecile Beaton’s Bright Young Things

National Portrait Gallery, London 12 March-7 June 2020

Cecile Beaton and Stephen Tennant by Maurice Beck and Helen Macgregor 1927

As an antidote to Brexit, the Coronavirus and falling stock market, it was such a pleasure to visit this beautiful exhibition of, rarely seen, prints by renowned photographer Cecil Beaton. The glamorous and stylish ‘Bright Young Things’ of the twenties and thirties are seen through his eyes.

Paula Gellibrand, Marquesa de Casa Maury by Cecil Beaton 1928

         The exhibition presents the leading cast of the movers and shakers of the time. Many of them were to help refine his remarkable photographic style. Artists and friends Rex Whistler  and Stephen Tennant, set and costume designer Oliver Messel, composer William Walton, modernist poets, Iris Tree and Nancy Cunard, glamorous socialites Edwina Mountbatten and Diana Guiness (née Mitford), actresses and anglophiles Tallulah Bankhead and Anna May Wong, among many others.

The Silver Soap Suds by Cecil Beaton 1930

Brought to vivid life, by the images, each of them has a story to tell. There are the slightly less well known too-style Icons Paula Gellibrand, the Marquesa de Casa poet Brian Howard, part model for Brideshead Revisited’s mannered ‘Anthony Blanche’, ballet dancer Tilly Losch and Dolly Wilde Oscar’s equally flambouyant neice. Also featured are those of an older generation, who gave Beaton’s career early impetus: outspoken poet and critic Edith Sitwell, the famously witty social figure Lady Diana Cooper, artist and Irish patriot Hazel, Lady Lavery, and the extraordinary bejewelled Lady Alexander, whose husband produced Oscar Wilde’s comedies and who became a patron of Beaton’s.

Edith Sitwell at Sussex Gardens by Cecil Beaton 1926

This show charts Beaton’s transformation from middle-class suburban schoolboy to glittering society figure and the unrivalled star of Vogue. In addition to Beaton’s own portraits, the exhibition also features paintings by friends and artists including Rex Whistler, Henry Lamb, and Augustus John.

Cecil Beaton at Sandwich early 19202

         Beaton’s own life and relationship with the ‘Bright Young Things’ is woven into the exhibition. He was born in 1904 during the reign of Edward VII. His father was a timber merchant, and by the time of his late boyhood the business was failing  and the family had to downsize. Beaton very aware of his place in society hated belonging to a dull humdrum middle class family and wanted to be famous and successful with all the trappings that went with that life style.

Anna May Wong by Cecil Beaton 1929

His love of theatre goes back to the days when as a young boy he would crawl into his mother’s bed and look at the images of Hollywood stars in her glamour magazines. The famous racing scene in ‘My Fair Lady’ takes one back to the glamour of the Edwardian era. Socially avaricious, Cecil was a much photographed figure, a celebrity in his own right.

Nancy and Baba Beaton by Cecil Beaton 1926

Beaton’s transformation from middle-class suburban schoolboy to glittering society figure and the unrivalled star of Vogue, revealed a social mobility unthinkable before the Great War. He used his artistic skills, his ambition and his larger-than-life personality to become part of a world that he would not surely have joined as a right. Throughout the twenties and thirties his photographs place his friends and heroes under perceptive, colourful and sympathetic scrutiny.

The Bright Young Things at Wilsford by Cecil Beaton 1927

         The exhibition shows glimpses from the high spirited revels at country house weekends, including a rare vintage print of the leading lights dressed as eighteenth-century shepherds and shepherdesses on the bridge at Wilsford Manor, regarded now as the quintessential depiction of The Bright Young Things.

Maxine Freeman-Thomas dressed for Ascot in the year 2000 for the Dream of Fair Women Ball by Cecil Beaton

Robin Muir, Curator of Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things said: ‘The Exhibition brings to life a deliriously eccentric, glamorous and creative ere of British Cultural life, combining High Society and the avant-garde, artists and writers, socialites and partygoers, all set against the rhythms of the Jazz Age”

Oliver Messel in his costume for Paris in Helen! by Cecil Beaton 1932

To sum up the exhibition, and his own life, in the words of Cecil Beaton

‘I don’t want people to know me as I really am but who I’m trying to pretend to be.’

Go and see this, it is a fabulous exhibition in a lovely gallery. The National Portrait Gallery is closing this June for three years as it undergoes a £35.5 million refurbishment.

Blog, Exhibitions

David Hockney : Drawing From Life

David Hockney “Self Portrait with Red Braces” 2003 Watercolor on paper 24 x 18 1/8″ © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

I am a huge fan of David Hockney, considered to be one of the greatest artists working today. There have been a great many exhibitions of his work over his long career and this is the first at the National Portrait gallery for over twenty years.

David Hockney “Mother, Bradford. 19 Feb 1978″ 1979 Sepia ink on paper 14 x 11” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt Collection The David Hockney Foundation

‘Drawing from Life’ focuses on Hockney as a draughtsman from the 1950’s and his intimate and revealing depictions of the five sitters closest to him. These are himself, his mother Laura, his curator and business manager, Gregory Evans, and master printer, Maurice Payne and close friend Celia Birtwell

Celia, Carennac, August 1971 coloured pencil on paper 17 x 14″ © David Hockney PhotoCredit : Richard Schmidt, Collection: David Hockney Foundation

The exhibition serves as a poignant reminder of the effects on the human form with the passing of time. The drawings done over the past six decades also illuminate Hockney’s distinctive way of observing the people around him, creating an intimate visual diary of the artist’s life, while highlighting his reference to both tradition and the changing landscape of technology.


He uses both traditional and non-traditional drawing equipment including coloured pencils, pen, the polaroid camera, he experiments with many different techniques and styles.

David Hockney “Gregory. Palatine, Roma. Dec. 1974″ Ink on paper 17 x 14” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Robert Wedemeyer

The influence of Ingres can be seen in Hockney’s neo-Classical style line drawings of the 1970’s and the ‘camera lucida’ drawings of the late 1990’s. In the 1980’s Hockney went through a period of cubist depictions that paid homage to Picasso. In more recent years, particularly with his use of the iphone and the ipad, Hockney’s work has returned to the distinctive mark making of Rembrandt and Van Gough.

David Hockney “Self Portrait” March 14, 2012 iPad drawing printed on paper Exhibition Proof 1 37 x 28″ © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

         Despite the shifts in Hockney’s practice and themes, his approach to drawing has remained largely unchanged: it is the foundation of his art, as he was taught at Bradford School of Art.

David Hockney “Maurice 1998″ Etching A.P. II/X 44 x 30 1/2” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt Collection The David Hockney Foundation

 Drawing was still compulsory when Hockney enrolled at the Royal College of Art in 1959 and its staff took note of his natural aptitude  for this academic discipline.

         One gallery space is given over to the new portraits of Hockney’s close friends. Inspired by the NPG exhibition Hockney invited his friends to sit for him once more in a new series of drawings- ten of which are on display in the exhibition. Drawn in Los Angeles and Normandy in 2019, the three-quarter length portraits are fond evocations of time spent together and represent the familiar faces and different expressions of his old friends, informed by all the sittings they have done previously. In the works Hockney uses the walnut-brown coloured ink favoured by Rembrandt, achieving an uninterrupted continuous line.

David Hockney “The Student: Homage to Picasso” 1973 Etching, soft ground etching, lift ground etching A.P. 1/15 29 3/4″ x 22 1/4″ © David Hockney Collection The David Hockney Foundation

Quote by Sarah Howgate Curator of David Hockney: Drawing From Life

“ Drawing not only represents David Hockney’s distinctive way of observing the world but it is a record of the encounters of those close to him. He has returned to this intimate circle over and over again and, because their faces are so familiar to him, achieving a likeness does not distract from the search for a more nuanced and psychological portrait that also records the passage of time.

Gregory 1978, coloured pencil on paper 17x 14″ © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schnidt, Collection The David Hockney Foundation

         Over the past six decades he has never stood still, or rested on a particular approach, medium or technique and this is a great strength. Inquisitive, playful and thought provoking he has generously shared his ideas with his audience. Although his drawing reflects his admiration for both the Old Masters and ‘modern Masters’ from Rembrandt to Picasso, Hockney undoubtedly has his own unique vision of the world around him and the people who are dear to him.”

David Hockney: Drawing from Life

27 February -28 June 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery

Tickets without donation from £17-£20

Tickets with donation from £19-£22

Free for Members and Patrons

Blog, Exhibitions

Cindy Sherman

National Portrait Gallery, London 27 June – 15 September 2019

Cindy Sherman’s groundbreaking series, Untitled Film Stills, 1977-80, is currently on public display for the first time in the UK, in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Cindy Sherman, explores the development of her work from the mid-1970s to the present day. The exhibition features around 180 works from international public and private collections, as well as new work never before displayed in a public gallery.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists, Cindy Sherman, (b. 1954), first gained widespread critical recognition for Untitled Film Stills, the series that she commenced shortly after moving to New York in 1977. Comprising 70 images, the work was the artist’s first major artistic statement and defined her approach. With Sherman herself as model wearing a range of costumes and hairstyles, her black and white images captured the look of 1950s and 60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies and European art-house films. Building on that layer of artifice, the fictional situations she created were photographed in a way that recalls the conventions of yesterday’s cinema. As a result, each photograph depicts its subject, namely the artist, refracted through a layer of artifice – a veneer of representation. 

Cindy Sherman at Private View – National Portrait Gallery

It is important to realize this is in no way similar to today’s instagram selfies. Unlike those who post themselves on instagram, wanting to be seen and admired, Sherman uses herself as a blank canvas that is hidden, transfigured and disguised. The exhibition sees all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed when she was a student in 1976, displayed together for the first time. Other key works are from the artist’s most important series including Rear Screen Projections, Centrefolds, History Portraits, Fairy Tales, Sex Pictures, Masks, Headshots, Clowns and Society Portraits. In a revealing juxtaposition, Ingres’s celebrated portrait of Madame Moitessier has been borrowed especially for the exhibition and is displayed alongside Sherman’s version of that historic painting.

‘Centrefolds’ was a commissioned piece by Art Forum magazine in 1981. It was presumed that Sherman would photograph women laid out for delectation of the male gaze, but instead she showed women as a psychologically frail, and with personality. The work was rejected by Art Forum as it showed an opposite impression to delectability, that of vulnerability.

Cindy Sherman is at once disgusted and fascinated by magazines. Between 1983- 84 she was asked to produce some fashion shots of the clothes of Jean Paul Gaultier so she shot them, on her disguised self, looking fraught, depressed and deranged. The irony is, that the more she attacks the fashion industry the more the fashion houses love her work.  

Cindy Sherman focuses on the artist’s manipulation of her own appearance and her deployment of material derived from a range of cultural sources in order to create imaginary portraits that explore the tension between façade and identity. She is famous for her use of make-up, costumes, props and prosthetics to create complex and ambiguous photographic images. A range of source material from the artist’s studio is shown in order to provide unprecedented insights into her working processes. Taking a quotation from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window, which Sherman has cited as an important influence: ‘Tell me everything you saw and what you think it means’ as its central theme, the exhibition examines in detail Sherman’s rich and varied visual language – which draws on cinema, television, advertising and fashion.

Paul Moorhouse, Curator, Cindy Sherman, says: ‘Cindy Sherman’s art is completely distinctive. By inventing fictitious characters and photographing herself in imaginary situations, she inhabits a world of pure appearance. No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way – or scrutinizes so tellingly the façades that people adopt. Probing the elusive connection between appearance and meaning, her work explores contemporary life – and with sharp observation exposes its deceptions.’

Cindy Sherman is curated by Paul Moorhouse, independent curator and writer, formerly Senior Curator of 20th Century Portraits and Head of Displays (Victorian to Contemporary) at the National Portrait Gallery. He is the author of Cindy Sherman, published by Phaidon in 2014.

Cindy Sherman  27 June – 15 September 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Tickets without donation: Full price £18, Concessions £16.50

Tickets with donation: Full price £20, Concessions: £18.50

Free for Members and Patrons

Cindy Sherman is sponsored by: Calvin Klein

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10.00 – 18.00 (Gallery closure commences at 17.50) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10.00 – 21.00 (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055 Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 Website

Blog, Exhibitions

The BP Portrait Award 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery London

The winner of the BP Portrait Award 2019 was announced this week at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The exhibition is now open for the public to view until Sunday 20 October 2019. 

The Poet by Tina Orsouc Dalessio

2019 marks the Portrait Award’s 40th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 30th year of sponsorship by BP. The BP Portrait Award, one of the most important platforms for portrait painters, has a first prize of £35,000, making it one of the largest for any global arts competition. This highly successful annual event is aimed at encouraging artists over the age of eighteen to focus upon, and develop, the theme of portraiture in their work.

As I write this I am very aware of the opposition to BP sponsoring the Portrait award. Despite the controversy the work is an incredible standard and the show is worth visiting. This year is particularly good as the work depicts people from all walks of life different ages cultures and ethnicity.

Arcus by Brendan H Johnston 2018

“There should be no role for an oil company in the artistic decisions of any cultural organization, and especially not in determining the winner of the world’s leading portrait award.” wrote the award’s judge, artist Gary Hume in a letter published with the group Culture Unstained. “This is the 30th year of BP sponsoring the Portrait Award, and I would argue that 30 years is enough. As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent, the Gallery will look more and more out of step by hosting an oil-branded art prize.”
This highly successful annual event is aimed at encouraging artists over the age of eighteen to focus upon, and develop, the theme of portraiture in their work.

Smoke Break by Ola Sarri 2018

The first prize was won by Brighton based artist, Charlie Schaffer, for Imara in her Winter Coat. This is a portrait of a close friend of the artist. It was selected from 2,538 submissions from 84 countries. The judges admired the mannerist style of this portrait, which has a strong sense of a living presence in Schaffer’s composition. The judges went on to say, ‘the skilful depiction of a combination of several different textures including faux-fur, hair and skin are revealed by prolonged looking and together these produce an image that is traditional, but clearly contemporary.’ 

Originally from London, Schaffer studied at Central Saint Martins before graduating with a degree in Fine Art from the University of Brighton in 2014. He has gone on to win the Brian Botting Prize ‘for an outstanding representation of the human figure’ three times.

Schaffer’s portrait Imara in her Winter Coat portrays Imara, an English Literature student he met after moving permanently to Brighton. Schaffer said: “She immediately struck me as someone who is uncompromisingly open and who wants to learn about anything and everything.” Sittings for the portrait took place over four months, with Imara posing in her warmest winter coat to withstand the studio’s cold conditions. Schaffer set out to paint only Imara’s face, but subsequently added the coat after being inspired by Titian’s Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro in the National Gallery, London, with its pyramidal composition and the subject’s similar attire

Sandi Toksvig presented Charlie Schaffer with £35,000 and a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth £7,000 (agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist).

Born in London in 1992, Schaffer studied at Central Saint Martins and then the University of Brighton where he graduated in 2014 with a degree in Fine Art. This is the first time he has been selected for the BP Portrait Award exhibition. Schaffer’s practice is mainly concerned with the act of painting, and how the process that allows the painter and sitter to spend time with one another forms unique and intense relationships.

Second prize winner The Crown by Carl-Martin Sandvold

The second prize of £12,000 went to Norwegian painter, Carl-Martin Sandvold, for The Crown, a self-portrait in existential thought. The judges were particularly impressed by the assured handling of paint, and keen observation, creating a portrait that had made a memorable impression, and lingered in the mind. 

Artist Frank Bowling by Tedi Lena 2019

The third prize of £10,000 went to Italian artist, Massimiliano Pironti, for Quo Vadis?, a portrait of his maternal grandmother, Vincenza, a former miller and factory worker now aged ninety-five. The judges were captivated by the excellent depiction of the subject, in particular the sitter’s hands in contrast with the surrounding textures including rubber, tiles and curtains. 

Third prize winner Quo Vadis? by Massimiliano Pironti 2018

The BP Young Artist Award of £9,000 for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 has been won by 30 year-old Brighton based artist Emma Hopkins for Sophie and Carla, a portrait that depicts the photographer Sophie Mayanne and her pet dog. The judges liked the way negative space had been used in the portrait, and how the artist had refreshed the traditional depiction of the nude with an interesting mutual gaze between the artist and sitter. Emma Hopkins was born in Brighton in 1989 and turned to portrait painting after graduating with a degree in Make-up and Prosthetics for Performance from the University of the Arts, London. Self-taught, Hopkins first exhibited her work in a staff show at the Chelsea Arts Club while working behind the bar, now she is a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Hopkins’ expertise has fed directly into her painting, which focuses almost exclusively on nude portraits and studies of human flesh. 

BP Young Artist Award Sophie and Carla by Emma Hopkins 2019

Hopkins’ portrait Sophie and Carla depicts the photographer Sophie Mayanne and her pet dog Carla. Mayanne is known for Behind the Scars, a photography project about people’s scars and the stories behind them. It is an interest that Hopkins shares, she says: “I want to understand as much as I can about what it means to be human. We are not just the clothed person we present to the world. We are the mind and body that we inhabit.”

The winner of the BP Travel Award 2019, an annual prize to enable artists to work in a different environment on a project related to portraiture, was Manu Kaur Saluja for her proposal to travel to the Golden Temple at Amritsar, India. Saluja intends to make portraits of the men and women from all walks of life who volunteer to work in the temple kitchens that operate year-round, providing meals to over 50,000 people free of charge, every day. The prize of £8,000 is open to applications from any of this year’s BP Portrait Award-exhibited artists, except the prize-winners. 

Z Hany U by Robert Seidel

The winner of the BP Travel Award 2018 was Robert Seidel for his proposal to travel along the route of the river Danube by train, boat and bike to connect with people and make portraits in the regions through which the river passes. His excellent  portraits work are displayed one floor up  from the BP Portrait Award 2019 exhibition.

Admission to the exhibition is free.