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Sir Isaiah Berlin

3 of 3 portraits by Sir Lawrence Gowing

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Isaiah Berlin

by Sir Lawrence Gowing
oil on canvas, 1982
37 1/4 in. x 34 in. (946 mm x 864 mm)
Commissioned, 1982
Primary Collection
NPG 5523

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), Philosopher and political theorist. Sitter in 11 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Lawrence Gowing (1918-1991), Painter and art historian. Artist or producer of 3 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 52
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 188 Read entry

    Gilt ramin, mitred and pinned, burnished water gilding on a plum bole leaf overlap visible. 3 1⁄ 2 inches wide.

    'I always invoice the frames of the portraits, which have been fluctuating so wildly in price, separately to the purchaser and I now forward Mr Burns's bill for the rather beautiful frame that he provided for Isaiah'. So wrote Lawrence Gowing to the Director of the National Portrait Gallery in November 1982 about the frame for the portrait of Isaiah Berlin commissioned by the Gallery. The 'Gold Leaf Frame' was supplied by Terry Burns of J. T. Burns & Co Ltd, 'Fine Picture Framers & Gilders' of 20-24 Emerald Street, London WC1, at a cost of £181.70. It requires a highly burnished frame of recent date to show how striking a result can be achieved with a gilt frame, an effect which works well with a portrait painted as broadly as Gowing's in his late manner.

    Gowing's framemaker at the time, Terry Burns, who did a lot of work for Royal Academicians, including Peter Greenham and Bernard Dunstan, recalls how Gowing's important commissions were usually gilded in a traditional manner.1 Many of his works, however, were put into a cheaper, stained and waxed frame of a type much favoured by Academicians at the time.

    1 Telephone conversation with Terry Burns, April 1996. Burns moved into framing in 1968 after selling his medical equipment business. He subsequently took on framing at the Royal Academy, and retired in 1991. I am grateful to Terry Burns for lending me his press cuttings file and his book, Framing Pictures, 1978.

Events of 1982back to top

Current affairs

Unemployment hits 3.6 million in the UK, with one in eight people out of work. The crisis came about as a result of industrial modernisation and restructuring. As a result those out of work were referred to as 'Maggie's millions'.
Charles and Diana have their first child, Prince William, who becomes the second in line for the throne.

Art and science

Richard Attenborough releases his biopic Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley as the lead. The film was an Anglo-Indian production, featuring a record-breaking 300,000 extras.
The Barbican Arts Centre is opened featuring a concert hall, theatres, cinema screens and an art gallery. In 2003 it was voted London's ugliest building in a BBC poll.
The Thames Barrier opens to protect London from floods due to rising sea levels.


Argentina occupies the Falkland Islands beginning the Falklands War. Britain retaliated, and after three months of fighting at sea and on land won back the islands. Following the British victory opposition grew in Argentina towards the military government, while in Britain a wave of patriotism helped Margaret Thatcher to win the general election the following year.

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