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An extraordinary, and intrinsically personal, Fine Art journey: The Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ Portrait Commission Service Giving you exclusive access to the UK’s finest portrait painters


Photo credit: ‘By the Pool’ by David Cobley RP

King Charles is soon to have his coronation portrait painted. Naturally, the Royal Family selected one of the UK’s most sought after and accomplished portraiture artists for the commission, and have chosen Royal Society of Portrait Painters member, Peter Kuhfeld (RP NEAC.) Those in the art world and those ‘in the know’ have long been aware that the general public have the same access to the country’s most renowned and exclusive portrait painters, through the Royal Society of Portrait Painter’s Portrait Commission service.

But, being painted by a leading portraiture artist who may have immortalised the most celebrated and well-known members of society is just one of the fascinations around using the service which, ultimately, takes the commissioner on a truly extraordinary and intrinsically personal Fine Art journey; “When someone commissions a portrait, they become in a very real sense a sponsor, a patron of the arts,’ Anthony Connolly, President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

In many ways, the artist’s portrait allows the subject never to pass into nothingness and to stand outside of time itself. It offers the chance for the subject’s painted form to essentially become immortal, be seen on canvas long after the sitter and artist have passed away. Unlike throwaway photographs, whose sacrosanctity is nullified by the sheer quantity we take, in existing as a piece of art, the painted portrait is preserved and will be passed from generation to generation – the subject remains very much alive. Commissioning portraits ‘In Memoriam’ is a central motivator for many of the RP’s clients, providing a beautiful, moving and intimate way to remember a loved one who has died, or who is about to die. Recent examples include a portrait to capture the special relationship between a husband and wife, commissioned after the wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and a portrait commission chosen in preference to a gravestone.

David Cobley’s ‘By the Pool’ is a portrait which freeze-frames a single moment, preserving and honouring it for time immemorial. Contented, relaxed parents beam with fulfilment and happiness at their children, experiencing an instant of pure joy as they leap, hand-in-hand into a pool. The family unit are together by a beautiful poolside, sun-kissed in a bath of what looks like Mediterranean weather on holiday, with their pet dog by their side. The moment is perfect and is immortalised in this family portrait. The portrait captures and holds a precious feeling and memory for the future, in what is an unstable world where nothing ever stands still. Annabel Elton, Head of Commissions at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters said; “The modern portrait commission does more than depict the person and their character, it also captures a moment in time. These portraits operate on many different levels. Communicating depth of emotion around relationships and people, speaking of unique personalities and lives, and taking a picture in paint of a point in time to be treasured. Unlike photographs, which have become meaningless in their quantity, a portrait consecrates key moments and memories – preserving them well after it has passed.”

Miriam Escofet’s portraits are flawless, inviting the viewer in with their exquisite colours, delicacy and unreal beauty. But look more closely and you will see detail and symbolism communicating information about the sitter beyond the superficial. In her portraits, flowers, marbles and unique compositions speak directly from the canvas –  in the same way as the classical works of the past and the Vanitas still lives of the 17th century. Miriam said; “Historically, flowers in paintings have great potency, with different varieties imbuing portraits with hidden messages. They are often associated with innocence and purity which is the reason for the magnolia flower in ‘Elara’s World.’ In her portrait, you will also see her special love of nature communicated by the wallpaper design in the background and the insects dotted around. Objects which convey a deeper, autobiographical meaning within my portraits are important to me, but they have to also fit aesthetically. I particularly enjoy including marbles in my work as they look so enigmatic. Some clients really love the idea of including objects which have a biographical or deeper meaning, when you think of the timelessness of a portrait, these objects will become more and more important as the years pass and the link to the original sitter and artist becomes lost. They will deliver welcome clues to the sitter’s identity.”

In Michael Taylor’s portrait of Rodney Williams, a man, seemingly with a penchant for wine and interesting ceramics looks unashamedly towards the viewer. But look more closely and you will see Rodney’s two marriages joining him on the canvas – his first wife on the jug in the background and his current wife taking centre stage next to him. More than a just an artistic representation of the physical, a portrait can reveal more of the real person than is seen in a photograph. Rather than through an inanimate lens, the artist’s interpretation incorporates their understanding and knowledge of the sitter and betrays their ability to capture their character or personal history in addition to their physical appearance.

The journey of a portrait commission – a unique art world experience

Commissioning a portrait involves an exclusive, art world journey which is totally individual for each sitter and artist. Sitters become an integral part in the creation of a work of art and get a glimpse into the hidden, private world of the artist and their unique process. Every portraiture artist works completely differently so sitters will have their own, unrepeatable experience.

Annabel Elton said; “There can be a perception that portrait commissions have a certain formula. That artists will spend a long time with their sitters before starting a work, or that they will work collaboratively with their clients. The reality is that every artist’s practice is completely their own. Some artists will spend hours with their sitter before starting, while for others, a one-off meal will suffice. Some want to hear the views of their sitters, but others won’t allow the client to see the work until it is finished and they are totally happy. What is consistent for all commissions though, is accessing a window into the artistic process. Whether that’s sitting in an artists’ studio filled with paintings and the smell of oil paints, or watching the work unfold before your very eyes, the journey will be incredibly special.

“Being part of the journey also means you have played your part in something greater than yourself. You have, for a moment in time, become interwoven with the art world as a whole. You have worked with a leading portraiture artist of your day and are now part of a body of work which is timeless – which will last way beyond you and the artist.”

Love & Legacy – an overarching theme

Annabel Elton, said; “If I think of one unifying theme, or client desire, which gives life to all our wonderful portrait commissions it is their ability to celebrate both love and legacy. It is what unites all the portrait commissions we facilitate and support. Portraits are commissioned to capture the people tied to families and friends through bonds of love, and the legacy part can be connected to this – the legacy of this person’s relationships, their generational connections or ancestral ties. The legacy element can also be seen in relation to a portrait’s ability to mark and honour what a person has achieved. This could both be in terms of their status and importance as part of a family unit and in terms of their career or achievements.”

About the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and its Commission Service – supporting all aspects of a remarkable journey

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters is a selective and highly discerning members-only art charity that exists to encourage the appreciation, study and practice of the art of portraiture. The society’s members represent the UK’s finest portrait painters. Membership is highly sought after and competitive, elected by the society’s membership – portrait artist peers and according to the highest standards of artistic merit. This means, you can you relax about the quality of the portrait you commission.

The Society’s dedicated Portrait Commission Service provides comprehensive support throughout all aspects of what is a remarkable and unique journey. This includes help in selecting the portraiture artist, from a diverse range of options, most appropriate to your needs and taste. Unlike a traditional commercial gallery, the society doesn’t represent a small selection of artists, but rather has an intimate relationship with their incredible member-artists, meaning you will be best placed to make an informed decision.

To find out more about the Royal Society of Portrait Painter’s Portrait Commission Service, please visit: therp.co.uk/portrait-commission/