My Favourite Portrait by David Cobley
King Henry VII
by Unknown Flemish artist
Taken from the Gallery Supporters’ Magazine, Face to Face
When I was eight I was in Mr Cox’s class. Mr Cox was great because he liked drawing and painting and had lots of pictures around the classroom. Being in his class made me want to draw and paint even more than I was doing already.
Freddy Hepburn was also in Mr Cox’s class, and he was good at drawing. He was in fact good at almost everything, and was usually top of the class. During break time, he would sometimes stay in and copy pictures from a book on British history. One day I asked if I could join him, and after that we would often sit next to one another drawing pictures of English kings and queens.
So I knew about the portrait of Henry VII in the Collection long before I saw it at first hand, like my favourite painting of all time, the Rembrandt self-portrait as the Apostle Paul in the Rijksmuseum, which I came across as an Athena print in my early teens. I bought it with money from my paper round and hung it on my bedroom wall.
I seem to remember thinking at the time I was drawing him that Henry looked like a cool customer. Not a very likeable person, but probably someone who was very good at being king. His delicate hands resting lightly on the ledge at the bottom of the picture, and his cautious, calculating look, suggest someone who was very careful and precise in all his dealings.
The best portraits allow us a psychological intimacy with the sitter that we would not otherwise have had. Although the one of Henry is quite small, within the confines of that arched space one is left with the very definite impression of a man who enjoyed being in control.
David Cobley is a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and founder of Bath Artists’ Studios, where he continues to draw, paint and sculpt.