Monday, 31 August 2015




Eliza by Michael Gaskel, Acrylic on Board 370x270mm (c) the Artist
Michael Gaskell has been selected five times for the BP Portrait Award, and won second prize for the third time this year. This  portrait is of his niece Eliza, who agreed to sit for him in early 2014 when she was 14, having first sat for a portrait for her uncle when she was a very small child.

‘I hope this painting conveys a sense of Eliza’s growing confidence as she develops into a woman’, says Gaskell, ‘but retains some of the self-consciousness which was also present at the time’.

There are many portraits of women in very different situations in the current BP Portrait Award show: naked or clothed, angry or anxious, fragile or determined, submissive and suspicious. But here we have no distractions. There are no props or background clues to feed a thread of story into our minds.  And while the glitzy London shop windows surrounding the National Portrait Gallery change their minds monthly as to what colour is or is not desirable, the artist focuses on one. To describe it as 'blue' is like saying a castle is a house. Blue is the colour reserved for the Madonna and the angels by Renaissance painters, using lapis lazuli, the most scarce and expensive pigment of the time, mined in Afghanistan under dangerous, even deadly conditions. 

The artist tells us that the primary influence in painting Eliza was the work of the fifteenth-century painter Hans Memling, especially in the lighting and the composition.

Memling's painting Virgin and Child  (1487) is next door in The National Gallery. 

The judges remarked, We agreed that this is a highly accomplished portrait, revealing the influence of Vermeer and Dutch seventeenth-century paintings while also having a seemingly modern, timeless quality.’
Sir James Lovelock (c) NPG

 In 2012 Michaael Gaskell was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paint a portrait of climate scientist Sir James Lovelock whose career included the formulation of the Gaia theory, his highly influential hypothesis that the Earth is a self-regulating, single organism. Other commissions include a painting used on the poster for Wes Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom. 

In an essay in the small illustrated book accompanying the exhibition, Neil Gaiman writes
 The joy and power of portraiture is  that it freezes us in time. Before the portrait, we are younger. After it has been created we will age or we will rot.
The link below will take you to a slide show of paintings by Memling and owned by the nation. It includes Virgin with Child

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