painting by memory

We found ourselves in an odd situation the other day. We went to see a major travelling exhibition, Shakespeare to Winehouse, which has come to Australia from the National Portrait Gallery, London. We knew that there was no photography allowed, but I was taken aback when the security guard asked me to put my pencil away as there was no drawing allowed in the exhibition either.*

Apart from being very annoyed I was at rather a loss because sketching is my favourite way of recording exhibitions. After going through the exhibition we beat a quick retreat to the coffee shop where I furiously wrote notes on the paintings/ photographs that caught my attention. Did I mention that you couldn’t even take notes in pencil in the gallery?

However, after we got back home, it dawned on me that I could at least try and paint some of the works from memory – it’s hard to keep a determined artist down.

This is a first for me and I can’t say that I had prepared myself for the experience. Nevertheless I managed two acrylic studies, neither of which give a terribly accurate rendering of their sources, but it was fun. (And yes, I do know that I can download all the paintings online. It was just more fun doing it this way).

Drawn from memory: partially completed, Richard Avedon, 1960, photograph of WH Auden in New York (NPG P614) – acrylic paint on collaged cardboard
Drawn from memory: Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1829, unfinished portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (NPG 7032)

If you are interested in 15 minutes of relaxing video you can watch me paint this study by following this link.

  • I have confirmed with the lending institution that both photography and sketching are allowed in their gallery. It just seems that our local host organisation has gotten all draconian. I don’t know why as so far they haven’t gotten around to replying to my complaint email. I will update this if and when I hear from them.
  • Shortly after posting this blog I heard from the local gallery to say that the restrictions were, in part, to do with copyright issues for living artists. Also that high visitor numbers in their relatively smaller rooms made photography and sketching a problem with obstruction (my words). They are at least holding out a ray of hope for the sketchers. Apparently, they are monitoring visitor numbers to identify quieter periods when sketching might be allowed.
  • The full text of both replies can be found on my Instagram account @leonieandrewsart.
Detail of Wellington’s head.