National Portrait Gallery 2 Studio Culture

National Portrait Gallery

London is a fantastic city to live in. It is impossible to be bored when you are surrounded by a place that is constantly changing and with things to make you stop and stare around every corner. Whether it’s a man in a morph suit painting the cosmos on the pavement or two pigeons fighting over an entire croissant, you can guarantee you’ll be intrigued.

If that wasn’t enough, we are even treated to free admission to some incredible galleries. I confess that I have rarely made time to go and visit exhibitions (most of it is spent watching if that croissant really is too big for that pigeon) until recently, when I ventured out to spend a couple of Saturdays in the National Portrait Gallery.

Tucked behind the National Gallery and across the street from a Prêt a Manger, sits a mystical building. Its rooms and corridors are filled with eccentric characters in paint, marble, blood and flesh. It did not take me long to feel that exhilarating rush of inspiration. I hurried down to the gallery shop and, after buying the most economically decorated sketchbook and pen I could find, found myself a quiet corner to settle down and draw. 

You can learn a lot about a place by sitting somewhere and watching for an extended period of time. It surprised me how many people used the rooms not only to view the amazing portraits, but also as a meeting place to catch up and gossip. “Oh c’mon he knows I need to have those on-camera classes” was probably in the top three of overheard conversations.

But, I didn’t just spend my day being a nosey little brat. When I was not sitting I was strolling, in search of my next muse. Each room is a new experience, each wall lined with new faces to marvel at. A range of styles and visual approaches surround you. A dramatic and pompous painting of previous royals hangs just around the corner from Prince Charles sitting comfortably in a deckchair. I cannot remember being in a place with such a fabulous catalogue of facial hair on display.

The whole atmosphere of the Gallery is absorbing. The musky smell of oil ageing on canvas, the echoing sound of shoes clicking across wooden floors and the simple pleasure of drawing interesting things I could see. Not having to worry if a sketch was dynamic enough or if it would be finished by six o’clock. All that was important was getting the cross-hatching of this fella’s wig right or capturing the distinctive nose of someone who just strolled in the room. It was simple, it was relaxing and it was two brilliant days out.

Below I have made a list of a few pieces that inspired me and I’ve also included a selection of the drawings from my time in the National Portrait Gallery. Hopefully you will enjoy looking at them as much as I thoroughly enjoyed making them.

So what are you waiting for? Get off the Internet and go see something amazing!

Self’ by Marc Quinn, a sculpture made from the frozen blood of the artist.

The Reformed House of Commons’ by Sir George Haytler, took 10 years to paint - You will understand why when you see it.

‘William Maxwell Aitken’ by Walter Richard Sickert. A confident and expertly coloured figure.

Some General Officers of The Great War’ by John Singer Sargent. A Great line up of some Great faces from the Great War.

Lady Ottoline Morrell’ by Augustus John. A brilliant character with a face you’ll never forget.

Stephen Middleton


Tags: Studio Culture

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