NPG 6371 (1b)

 

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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

things. He described Janice Tchalenko to me from my portrait of her which he spent a lot of time looking at here perforce during sittings. In fact he spoke very well about painting.

He seemed to like my studio. I said it was small, but that I have 'cabin' mentality probably inherited from my naval dad. He said his office was like an aircraft cockpit (he was in the RAF) every inch in use with appointments on pieces of paper hanging from the ceiling to be pulled down when finished with. And to upset the north south divide his map of Britain hung upside down. He said 'it's no wonder journalists visiting call me loony Benn.' Ha! Sanest man in or near my studio.

His renunciation of the peerage in the early sixties was my earliest political memory, distant but clearly signalling the mood of that time. Everyone who knows him or of him will have their own view and there are any number of records of the image of the public Tony Benn. My portrait is of the man who came to me on all those occasions this year and what I gathered about him. For me that was a tall enough order. To paint him as other people see him is well nigh impossible and anyway at this point in the history of human technology misses the point of painting a portrait.

Yours sincerely
as ever

Humphrey