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Harold Pinter

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Harold Pinter

by Justin Mortimer
oil on canvas, 1992
35 7/8 in. x 35 7/8 in. (910 mm x 910 mm)
Commissioned as part of the First Prize, 1991 BP Portrait Award, 1992
Primary Collection
NPG 6185

Sitterback to top

  • Harold Pinter (1930-2008), Playwright, actor and director. Sitter in 21 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Justin Mortimer's portrait is a modern version of the 'man-of-letters' portrait type and shows Pinter's head before a massive pile of books and scripts and a vivid red background. Pinter later reflected that during the sitting he was thinking about ‘life, death and everything; I was quite relaxed.’

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 135
  • 100 Writers, p. 132
  • Nairne, Sandy (introduction), 500 Portraits: BP Portrait Award, 2011, p. 15
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 495
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 248 Read entry

    Harold Pinter was one of the most distinguished playwrights of his generation, and a respected director and actor. Born in Hackney, east London, his reputation was secured with The Caretaker (1960). The Homecoming (1965) and No Man’s Land (1975) followed, evoking uncertainty and menace whilst revealing the poetry and comedy of everyday language. His screenwriting credits include The Servant (1962), The Go-Between (1970) and Betrayal (1978). In 2003 Pinter memorably expressed his political convictions at an anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park, London. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

    The Gallery commissioned Justin Mortimer (b.1970), winner of the Gallery’s annual portrait award in 1991, to undertake this portrait. Completed over a number of sittings at the writer’s home, it is in effect a modern version of the ‘man-of-letters’ portrait type and shows Pinter’s head before a massive pile of books and scripts against a vivid red background. Interviewed for the Independent on Sunday in 1999, Pinter recalled the painter begging him to keep absolutely still: ‘“You don’t understand”, he said, “my whole career is at stake here” – he was only half joking but it was very important to him.’ Meanwhile, Pinter ‘just sat back and thought about life, death, everything’.

Events of 1992back to top

Current affairs

The Church of England votes narrowly in favour of the ordination of women priests. The first women priests were ordained in 1994, inspiring the popular sitcom The Vicar of Dibley.
John Major is forced to take the pound off the European Exchange Rate Mechanism after Black Wednesday, when currency dealers continued selling sterling despite a dramatic increase in interest rates. The event damaged the Conservative party's reputation irreparably.

Art and science

The long-running sitcom Absolutely Fabulous airs for the first time on the BBC starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as style-obsessed, middle-aged media luvvies Eddy and Patsy. June Whitfield played Eddy's mother, and Julia Sawalha her long-suffering daughter Saffy (or, 'sweetie darling').


Members of the European Community sign the Maastricht Treaty leading to the creation of the European Union. The treaty led to the creation of the 'Euro' currency and its policy was based on a 'three pillars structure' concerned with: 1. Community. 2 . Foreign and Security Policy. 3. Criminal Matters.
At a referendum, Bosnia and Herzegovina vote to become a separate state from Yugoslavia. Civil war soon broke out.

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