Iris Murdoch

1 portrait

Iris Murdoch, by Tom Phillips, 1986 - NPG 5944(1) - © DACS / Tom Phillips

© DACS / Tom Phillips

Iris Murdoch

by Tom Phillips
conté, 1986
54 1/2 in. x 40 in. (1384 mm x 1016 mm)
Purchased, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG 5944(1)

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  • Tom Phillips (1937-), Artist. Artist of 22 portraits, Sitter in 6 portraits.

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These large scale drawings of the novelist and philosopher were the result of a block the artist experienced while painting the portrait commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 1984. The work spanned three years and about fifteen sittings of a couple of hours each. Tom Phillips has described how he tried to capture the luminous presence of his subject, 'an electric light bulb in that gloomy corner, glowing, casting out darkness…'. The background, Titian's Flaying of Marsyas, came to dominate the portrait. Between sittings Phillips resorted to drawing from memory, and images with an elemental quality emerged, so that each represents Earth, Fire, Air and Water respectively. This one relates to 'Earth'. The drawings taught him that 'the historiated aspects of Iris's face, the lines and creases, were not really important to her actual presence. Thus I found my way back to the original light bulb image'.

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