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Peter Pears; Benjamin Britten

2 of 120 portraits of Benjamin Britten

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Peter Pears; Benjamin Britten

by Kenneth Green
oil on canvas, 1943
28 1/8 in. x 38 1/8 in. (715 mm x 969 mm)
Given by Mrs Mary Behrend, 1973
Primary Collection
NPG 5136

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Britten (shown right) studied composition with Frank Bridge and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1930. Britten emigrated to the USA in 1939 with his life-partner Peter Pears (shown left), returning in 1942. The lead role in Peter Grimes, the first of Britten's ten operas, was written for Pears. It premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 1945. Billy Budd (1951) was commissioned for the Festival of Britain, and the War Requiem (1962) for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral. Life-long partners, they founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948, followed by the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies at nearby Snape, in 1972.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 77
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 212 Read entry

    One of the greatest British composers of the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten is depicted in this double-portrait with the singer Peter Pears, with whom he had a close personal and musical relationship that lasted from 1939 until Britten’s death. They became a celebrated voice and piano duo, with Britten writing a stream of works for Pears’s voice. At the time of this portrait by Kenneth Green (1905–86), they had returned from the United States, having made the Atlantic crossing in wartime conditions that were far from safe. During the voyage, Britten composed his setting to W. H. Auden’s Hymn to St Cecilia and A Ceremony of Carols. He was also by then forming ideas for one of his greatest works, the opera Peter Grimes, with a libretto based on George Crabbe’s poem of the same title. On their return to England, both registered as conscientious objectors. In his written submission, Britten stated that ‘The whole of my life has been devoted to a life of creation … and I cannot take part in acts of destruction’.

Events of 1943back to top

Current affairs

The War effort continues with women recruited to the Home Guard and Ernie Bevin introducing conscription of miners as coal output continues to flag.
There is panic when a new anti aircraft weapon is heard for the first time in London and 173 people die in the crush to enter an air-raid shelter at Bethnal Green tube station.

Art and science

Barnes Wallis's bouncing bomb is used during Operation Chastise - the Dam busters Raid - to destroy three dams in the Ruhr area of Germany. The raid was considered a success, knocking out hydroelectric power, cutting off the water supply to industry and causing devastation through flooding. The operation also, however, cost the allies many lives, and the bouncing bomb was not used again.


The invasion of Sicily is successful thanks to Operation Mincemeat, in which false documents were planted on the body of a dead airman to mislead Germany into thinking that the Allied target was Sardinia. The invasion led to the fall of Mussolini and Italy joining the Allies.
42,000 German civilians are killed in a firestorm in Hamburg caused by the Allied bombing in Operation Gomorrah.

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