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Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma

by John Ulbricht
oil on canvas, 1968
64 in. x 45 in. (1626 mm x 1143 mm)
Purchased, 1968
Primary Collection
NPG 4617

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Ulbricht (1926-2006), Artist. Artist of 1 portrait, Sitter in 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The 1968 purchase of this portrait marked a radical shift in the National Portrait Gallery’s acquisition policy. Previously, the Gallery had only been able to accept portraits of sitters who had been dead for at least ten years, a policy intended to ensure that sitters’ contribution to British history and culture had been sufficiently assessed. However, in the late 1960s the Gallery’s director Roy Strong proposed a challenge to the established rules. He suggested that the Gallery should collect portraits of living people by prominent contemporary painters of living people “so that this Gallery in a hundred years time is not an accumulation of academic tatt.”
One of a series of large heads by the American artist, Strong described John Ulbricht’s painting as a “rather riveting and strange object, very modern for this collection.” Conventional portraitists of the period aimed to flatter their sitters; in contrast, this painting seemed to be an attempt “to come to terms with the human face... a large scale detailed study of an individual physiognomy, reminiscent of a searching close-up on the cinema screen or, perhaps, of an area of a map, which has never been seen in such detail before”, in the words of the Gallery’s then-Chief Curator Robin Gibson.
Letters from the artist describing the portrait sittings survive in the Gallery’s records. In these, Ulbricht describes his single meeting with Mountbatten and “the image of him which struck me so forcibly at the time: that of a face like the great vertical superstructure of a battleship”.

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Events of 1968back to top

Current affairs

Enoch Powell delivers his 'Rivers of Blood' speech in Birmingham in opposition to anti-discrimination legislation and immigration from the commonwealth. The speech is usually regarded as racist and blamed for stirring up racial prejudice. Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet as a result, but received considerable public approval at the time for his views.
Fay Sislin becomes England first black woman police officer.

Art and science

Beaton Portraits is the first ever photographic exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Under the directorship of Roy Strong, the exhibition introduced a new, theatrical approach to display, and was so popular that the national press reported on the length of queues to get in and it had to be extended twice.


Civil unrest escalates in France as student protesters, joined by striking workers, clash with the police. The events came to represent the conflict between the new, liberalised, left-wing generation and the forces of authority and conservatism. French protests were mirrored by others abroad including the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, where political liberalisation was achieved for a few months before the country was invaded by the Soviet Union.

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