Jan Morris

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Jan Morris

by Arturo Di Stefano
oil on canvas, 2004-2005
46 in. x 48 in. (1168 mm x 1219 mm)
Commissioned, 2005
Primary Collection
NPG 6722

On display in Room 28 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

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  • Jan Morris (1926-2020), Journalist, author and historian. Sitter in 3 portraits.

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Di Stefano's research for the portrait began with him making a journey to Jan Morris's beloved home in Wales. Morris then made a number of visits to Di Stefano's studio, where the artist worked first on preparatory sketches and then the painting from life. The subject played an important part in the painting's development and entered into the process with great gusto. Artist and sitter got on very well, sharing a love of Italy (Di Stefano's parents are both from Southern Italy). From the beginning she had requested 'an allegorical landscape of the imagination', and the inclusion of her Norwegian cat Ibsen, was non-negotiable. The landscape beyond the studio window includes references to Wales, Venice, Trieste, Manhattan, and Everest, all significant places in Morris's personal history. Also symbolic of her travels is the scrunched up hotel napkin she holds - which doubles up as a handkerchief. Typical of Di Stefano's artistic practice, he has used wet on wet with a glaze. His painting process relies in part on chance and accident, using Japanese paper to lift the surface of the wet paint, creating a palimpsest effect. Morris has described sitting for the portrait as 'life enhancing' and 'one of the happiest experiences of my life'.

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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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