Wednesday 14 December 2016

The National Portrait Gallery has unveiled a large portrait of its former Director Sandy Nairne by Chuck Close, it was announced today, Wed 14 Dec 2016. It is the first portrait by Close to be acquired by the Gallery and the first major work by the American artist to enter a British public collection.     

Renowned for the large-scale, photo-based portraits he has produced since the 1960s, Chuck Close has created a six-foot tall watercolour print portrait of Sandy Nairne, based on a unique large format colour Polaroid photograph that was taken in John Reuter’s 20x24 Studio in New York. Close has donated the portrait to the Gallery.  

While in keeping with the tradition of commissioning a portrait of their retiring Director, the Gallery’s Trustees approved the choice of this artist of international standing, suggested by Sandy Nairne and the Gallery’s Contemporary Curator, Sarah Howgate. Most of Close’s subjects are American and therefore ineligible for the Collection, but the artist has had a relationship with Nairne dating back to the Gallery’s SELF-PORTRAIT: Renaissance to Contemporary exhibition in 2005 when Close’s self-portrait was displayed at the entrance to the exhibition in the Ondaatje Wing Main Hall.  

To make the transition from a photograph to a watercolour, Close drew from a digital library of more than ten thousand, hand-painted, monochromatic marks created for the process. The specific size and spacing of the grid and the interaction of the individual marks were carefully chosen and manipulated in order to retain the characteristics and clarity of a special watercolour technique that was developed by Close in his own studio with Donald Farnsworth, the artist’s main collaborator.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This wonderful portrait represents both a fitting tribute to my predecessor Sandy Nairne and a striking example of contemporary portraiture.’

Sandy Nairne CBE was Director of the National Portrait Gallery from 2002 to 2015. His achievements at the Gallery include leading the £10m campaign to acquire Van Dyck’s late self-portrait and overseeing a number of important exhibitions, and expanding the education, digital and national programmes, with the Gallery’s attendance figures rising to over two million visitors each year.

Nairne was previously Director of Programmes at Tate (1994–2002), working alongside Sir Nicholas Serota in the creation of Tate Modern and the Centenary Development at Tate Britain. He has also worked at the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (now Modern Art Oxford).

Nairne is currently Chair of the Clore Leadership Programme, the Fabric Advisory Committee of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Art Group for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres, and a Trustee of the National Trust and the Courtauld Collection.

American artist Chuck Close has focused on portraiture and the human face in painting and photography since the late 1960s. Close studied at the University of Washington (1962) and Yale University School of Art and Architecture (1963-4). He now lives and works in New York City and Long Island. In 1988 Close was paralysed following a rare spinal artery collapse but he has continued to work using a brush-holding device strapped to his wrist and forearm. Close has made portraits of subjects including Philip Glass, Cindy Sherman, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

In 2000, Close was presented with the prestigious National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. The artist is represented in many of the great international museums of contemporary art including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Tate, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Centre George Pompidou, Paris.

The portrait will be part of a display Depicting the Human Head that will include paintings of pianist Alfred Brendel by Tony Bevan and scientist Sir Paul Nurse by Jason Brooks, both commissioned during Nairne’s term as Director, together with a recently acquired self-portrait by British artist Nigel Henderson.  

Sandy Nairne, Director 2002-15, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘It is an honour to be portrayed by Chuck Close for the National Portrait Gallery in a way that is bold and intriguing. Chuck Close is an artist whom I greatly admire.’

Sandy Nairne by Chuck Close is in Depicting the Human Head in Room 33, First Floor Landing, at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from Wednesday 14 December 2016, Admission free.

NPG 7017: SANDY NAIRNE (b. 1953)   

by Chuck Close (b. 1940), 2015

Archival watercolour pigment print on Hahnemuhle rag paper, 2015, 1896 x 1523 mm  

© Chuck Close/National Portrait Gallery, London; commissioned by the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, and donated by the artist 2015 


Sandy Nairne by Chuck Close, 2015 © Chuck Close/National Portrait Gallery, London 

For further Press information and image requests please contact: Neil Evans, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery Tel: 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) Email: [email protected]

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