by Tom Phillips
54 1/2 in. x 40 in. (1384 mm x 1016 mm)
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Sitterback to top
- Dame (Jean) Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), Novelist and philosopher. Sitter in 35 portraits.
This portraitback to top
These large scale drawings of the novelist and philosopher were the result of a block the artist experienced while painting the portrait commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 1984. The work spanned three years and about fifteen sittings of a couple of hours each. Tom Phillips has described how he tried to capture the luminous presence of his subject, 'an electric light bulb in that gloomy corner, glowing, casting out darkness…'. The background, Titian's Flaying of Marsyas, came to dominate the portrait. Between sittings Phillips resorted to drawing from memory, and images with an elemental quality emerged, so that each represents Earth, Fire, Air and Water respectively. This one relates to 'Earth'. The drawings taught him that 'the historiated aspects of Iris's face, the lines and creases, were not really important to her actual presence. Thus I found my way back to the original light bulb image'.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 449
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
Portrait setback to top
Events of 1986back to top
Current affairsHampton Court Palace is devastated by fire. Much of the third floor and the roof of the building were destroyed, although, thanks to the courage of the fire fighters, only one painting and one piece of furniture were ruined.
Prince Andrew, Duke of York, marries Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey.
Art and sciencePoems on the Underground, the brainchild of American writer Judith Chernaik, is launched by London Underground. A rolling programme of poems is displayed in tube train carriages, bringing contemporary and classic poetry to commuters.
The Independent Newspaper is first published.
Artists, Gilbert and George win the Turner Prize.
InternationalAn explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station leads to nuclear meltdown in the reactor and causes massive nuclear contamination over Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, western Europe, the UK and Ireland, and even North America. The 2005 Chenobyl Forum attributed 56 direct deaths to the disaster and estimated that 9,000 people may die from some form of cancer as a result of exposure to radiation.
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Help us conserve a portrait of a female adventurer, poet and medical pioneer