Archive for the ‘from summerhouse to summer read’ Category

Juliet and her pals

 

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The Situation Group by Sylvia Sleigh, 1961 © National Portrait Gallery, London This portrait is on display in Room 6817.

 

The Situation Group by Sylvia Sleigh

Now this is exactly how I imagine Juliet to be, surrounded by the artists she nurtures and admires – often a lone woman amid a sea of men. Like the fictional artists in ‘The Gallery of Vanished Husbands’ the artists depicted in ‘The Situation Group’ are strongly influenced by thrilling new work coming from America and hanker after the modern. I like the clean lines of the painting, and the thoughtful expression on the face of the only woman. She wears elegant black and none of the playful red that several of the men display on their ties. It must be lonely and take a certain strength of character to be a woman operating in the male dominated art scene of the ‘60s.  I also love the chap in large, David Hockney spectacles at the centre of the painting – so evocative of the era.

A woman of audacity…

 

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Anna Zinkeisen by Anna Katrina Zinkeisen, circa 1944 © National Portrait Gallery, London

This portrait is on display in Room 5884.

I’ve always admired Anna Katrina Zinkeisen’s self-portrait. Self-portraits are particularly fascinating – one often feels a bit of a voyeur as if we’ve caught the artist at a private moment studying herself in the bathroom mirror. Here, Zinkeisen is ready to be discovered – she’s smartly dressed for the occasion, and holds her brushes in her hand. During the Second World War she was a medical artist, painting wounds for the Royal College of surgeons, a task that must have required a steady hand and a steadier stomach. I think that unflinching gaze reveals a woman capable of such things but I also love the bold flash of red at her cuff and collar and dabbed on her unsmiling mouth. I imagine the character of Juliet Montague to be a similarly audacious woman – able to negotiate her way through the ‘60s art scene, an outsider but with a dash of red lipstick.

 

 

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands at the National Portrait Gallery

My third novel ‘The Gallery of Vanished Husbands’ tells the life story of Juliet Montague and her emergence from a conservative Jewish upbringing to the heart of ‘60s London and it’s thriving art scene, through a series of portraits of Juliet, each chapter of the novel hinging on a different painting. The research was a treat as it sanctioned hours of padding around the National Portrait Gallery and rifling through the online archives. These are a few of the portraits that helped to inspire the novel.

I’m going to blog one each day for the next week.

Jan Morris by Arturo Di Stefano, 2004-2005 © National Portrait Gallery, London This portrait is on display in Room 6722.

Jan Morris by Arturo Di Stefano, 2004-2005 © National Portrait Gallery, London
This portrait is on display in Room 6722.

I adore Arturo Di Stefano’s painting of the writer Jan Morris. He conveys such a sense of a life lived – you can actually see it happening outside the window in the portrait. It feels like he has painted their conversation almost inadvertently as she tells him about her life, Italy, places she’s visited and loved. We’re peering into an intimate moment and catching a glimpse of the collusion between artist and subject. Di Stefano has not only captured a sense of Morris’s personality but also the experience of painting her – a delicious insight into the artistic process. I also very much like the cat – there’s something so personal and warm about it snoozing there in the corner.

And, to celebrate the launch of the book The National Portrait Gallery together with Stylist Magazine are running a competition to win a year’s membership plus to the NPG. Click on the link to enter: