NPG 6371 (1a)

 

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Letter from Humphrey Ocean to Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the National Portrait Gallery, dated 22 July 1996, giving an account of the sittings which Tony Benn gave him.
  Letter

22 July 1996

Dear Charles

Thank you for your two telephone calls last week. Your support and the way you talked about my Benn portrait counts for a great deal with me. I have a reputation as a portrait painter but I sometimes wonder what that reputation is. I am relieved the Trustees decided for the picture in the end.

Tony Benn came for nine sittings during which we talked a good deal and I learnt what a very unusual man he is. (He calls the portrait 'the listening Benn' but he did manage to get a word or two in edgeways). The day would start with something like him saying 'Have you noticed what part the harnessing of air has played in this century - tyres, silos, compressors.. and then I would say 'Dr Martens' and off we would go.

He arrived on Monday 8 January so it is a winter portrait, suit and cardigan. His suits are tidy but always disfigured by the wealth of gadgets, bleepers and pagers in all pockets. Patrician he may be but foppish he isn't. Compare his tie to Whitelaw's. It may not be immediately obvious from my portrait that we spent so much of the time laughing. What was most invigorating was the way he noticed