Holburne Museum unveils McCullin portrait

19 March 2015

Industry news

Bath's Holburne Museum has unveiled its latest painting by a winner of the Holburne Portrait Prize, Charlotte Sorapure, who received the award in 2012 for her striking Self Portrait. The winner is given a portrait commission: their sitter must be an individual who has contributed significantly to the cultural life of the South West. Charlotte Sorapure’s choice of the renowned photographer Don McCullin CBE HonFRPS coincides with his 80th year.

Her compelling portrait will be displayed in the Wirth Gallery alongside some of McCullin’s own landscape photographs, a still life and one of his most iconic war portraits, in prints generously lent by McCullin himself.

Charlotte Sorapure studied in Bournemouth, Cheltenham and at the Royal Academy of Arts and has been exhibiting her haunting pictures for twenty years. She is one of the most exciting figurative artists currently working in Bath.

The sittings for Charlotte Sorapure’s portrait were daunting for both painter and photographer. The observer of so many anguished faces was not comfortable being observed himself. However, Don McCullin was very generous with his time, and undertook several sittings in the artist’s studio: ‘It’s a great honour’ he revealed; ‘it isn’t every day someone comes to you and asks you to sit for a portrait’. Although the artist’s constant scrutiny disturbed him, he eventually found the experience of sitting still while she quietly stood at her easel a very restful, meditative one: ‘my pulse rate must have gone right down to zero’. The sittings were accompanied by soft Baroque music which drew the artist and her subject together into the present moment: McCullin observes that although neither knew what the other was thinking, both their space and their listening were shared.

Charlotte Sorapure has said of her portrait: ‘Don’s complex inner world had to be inferred and the challenge was to try and convey, in one static image, his restless vitality. The composition of the painting is off-kilter and the palette dark, creating a sense of drama and unease. He is seated upright, alert and tense, almost as if cornered. A paraphrase of one of his dark winter landscapes hangs in the background.’

Don McCullin first came to rural Somerset as an evacuee from London in the Second World War. Aged only 5, he found himself transplanted to Norton St Philip: his first experience of the disasters of war. Following an assignment to Cyprus for the Observer in 1964, he would ‘chase wars like a drunk chasing a can of lager’. Like Goya in the eighteenth century, he created images of appalling human suffering that ‘contaminate your thoughts’. To escape those dark thoughts, McCullin now uses his lens to explore landscapes all over the world, but none gives him as much pleasure as the area around his Somerset home. He recently said: ‘Photographing the Somerset landscape ­ it gives me total joy and freedom.’

The picture is on display at the Holburne Museum until June.

Image: © Evoke Pictures / www.evokepictures.com