Isabella Blow

News Release    

22 September 2010


A cacophony of stuffed animals dramatically spot-lit onto a wall to form a portrait silhouette of the late fashion icon Isabella Blow has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. It goes on display at the Gallery tomorrow and a talk about the work will be given there by the artists at 7pm as part of the Gallery's Late Shift programme (23 September 2010).

The unusual portrait made of 15 taxidermy animals (including birds, a rat and a snake), wood and fake moss, together with a heel from one of Blow's own Manolo Blahnik shoes and her trademark lipstick, is a vivid combination of sculpture, installation and light projection.

In the resulting silhouette of a head, Isabella Blow appears to be wearing one of the extraordinary hats designed for her by Phillip Treacy, which often featured taxidermy. The artists were fascinated by what they saw as Blow's gothic quality and chose to depict her head as though on a stake, incorporating a raven and the species of rat associated with the Black Death.   

The work has been donated to the Gallery by the estate of Isabella Blow, who died in 2007, and the artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster who created it from life in 2002. The result of their friendship with Isabella Blow, this is the only portrait by the artists of a person other than themselves. 

‘The portrait encourages us to reflect simultaneously on beauty and death,' says Rosie Broadley, Associate Curator of Contemporary Collections, National Portrait Gallery, London, ‘which embody Blow's own complex preoccupations.'

During their 15-year partnership, artists Tim Noble (b.1966, Stroud) and Sue Webster (b.1967, Leicester) have produced works that address issues of identity, self-representation and taboo. They are best known for their silhouette self-portraits, where a simple light source transforms a seemingly chaotic assemblage of ordinary objects into a perfect shadow portrait. Works include The Undesirables, 2000 a landscape of household rubbish on which the silhouetted artists appear to sit, contemplating a sunset.

As a journalist, stylist and muse, Isabella Blow (1958-2007) was a leading figure in the development of British fashion in the 1990s and 2000s. She is credited with discovering and promoting the careers of important British designers including Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, the world's leading milliner Philip Treacy, and the photographer Juergen Teller.

Working for Vogue (US and UK), Tatler and The Sunday Times Style magazine, Blow's own flamboyant style made her a muse for several designers. In 1998 her husband Detmar Blow co-founded the contemporary art gallery Modern Art with Stuart Shave, representing young artists including Noble and Webster, who made this portrait. Blow created many iconic fashion shoots which fused fashion with contemporary art.

Artist Sue Webster says: ‘Any portrait of Issy should not be made of sugar and spice and all things nice, but of the darker stuff of life that suited her more Gothic Image. Issy was a great friend of both Tim and myself, she was one of the most enigmatic, powerful and funniest women I have ever met.'


The Head of Isabella Blow, 2002 by Tim Noble and Sue Webster  
Until 13 March 2011
Room 37, Contemporary Collections in the Lerner Galleries
National Portrait Gallery, London
Admission Free


The Late Shift Artists in Conversation: Tim Noble and Sue Webster
In partnership with FTI Consulting

Thursday 23 September 2010, 19:00Ondaatje Wing Theatre, National Portrait Gallery, London
Tickets: £5/£4  020 7306 0055  

Following a screening of a short film of the artists at work, Sue Webster and Tim Noble discuss their unique approach to art and their portrait of fashion stylist and muse Isabella Blow, with writer and critic Michael Bracewell. This event is part of the National Portrait Gallery's Late Shift   programme, in partnership with FTI Consulting.


NPG 6872: The Head of Isabella Blow, 2002 (Isabella Delves Broughton) (1958-2007)
by Tim Noble (b.1966) and Sue Webster (b.1967)
15 taxidermy animals (1 rattlesnake, 1 raven, 1 robin, 6 magpies, 2 hooded crows, 1 carrion crow, 2 rooks, 1 black rat), Manolo Blahnik shoe heel, lipstick tube, wood, fake moss, light projector 
Dimensions: 50 x 50 x 155 cm (195/8 x 195/8 x 61 in)
Photograph by Andy Keate, © National Portrait Gallery, London; sculpture © Tim Noble and Sue Webster

For further press information, please contact: Neil Evans, Senior Press Officer, National Portrait Gallery: Tel. 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) / Email

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National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am - 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am - 9pm  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055  Recorded information: 020 7312 2463  Website/Tickets:   

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