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Judi Dench

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Judi Dench

by Alessandro Raho
oil on canvas, 2004
99 1/4 in. x 69 1/4 in. (2521 mm x 1759 mm)
Commissioned; made possible by J.P. Morgan through the Fund for New Commissions, 2004
Primary Collection
NPG 6671

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Raho has spoken of how he attempted to 'trap something I saw in Judi Dench while she waited in the foyer of the NPG, unaware of me'. The result is a portrayal of the actress in a role cast for her by the artist, highlighting the paradoxical ability of portraiture to make a picture of a person that is both a description of their appearance and a mask. Although photography is an integral part of his engagement with painting, the portrait retains painterly qualities such as the delicate brush strokes and soft tonal effect.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Howgate, Sarah; Nairne, Sandy, A Guide to Contemporary Portraits, 2009, p. 10 Read entry

    Leading actress of stage and screen, Dame Judi Dench (b. 1934) is known for her acting roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, and for her Oscar-nominated performances in films such as Iris (2001) and Mrs Henderson Presents (2005). In this striking full-length painting, with its strong awareness of the tradition of English theatrical portraits, artist Alessandro Raho depicts his subject unadorned, without prop or costume, against a neutral background – a reversal of his usual practice of ‘dressing up’ his subjects. Although photography is an integral part of Raho’s practice, the portrait retains painterly qualities in the delicate brush strokes and soft tonal effect.

  • Nairne, Sandy; Howgate, Sarah, The Portrait Now, 2006, p. 23 Read entry

    Known for garbing his sitters in theatrical attire, in this instance Raho decided instead to capture Britain's much loved actress Judi Dench in a simple white coat. Situated against a bleak white background, Dench is caught in a laguidly casual pose. The portrait is an attempt, according to Raho, to 'trap something I saw in her while she waited in the main hall of the National Portrait Gallery, unaware of me.' Meticulously painted over a six-month period, the portrait is based on 200 photographs taken by the artist during an intensive studio session with the actress.

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Events of 2004back to top

Current affairs

Armed robbers raid the Northern Bank in Belfast, stealing £26.5 million. Gunmen entered the homes of two bank officials, kidnapping their families and forcing them to let them into the bank, before loading cash into vans and driving away. Police and the British and Irish governments claimed that the Provisional IRA was responsible and several of the people arrested had PIRA, Real IRA and Sinn Féin connections.

Art and science

A fire at Charles Saatchi's art warehouse destroys some of the icons of Brit Art. Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With and The Hut by Tracey Emin and works by Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Sarah Lucas, Gavin Hume and Rachel Whiteread were among the casualties.


An earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day causes a tsunami that kills nearly 230,000 people when it hit the coasts of Southeast Asia. The earthquake itself was the second most powerful ever recorded on a seismograph and waves from the tsunami - the most devastating in history - were up to 30 metres high.

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