Fiona Shaw

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Fiona Shaw

by Victoria Russell
oil on canvas, 2001-2002
72 in. x 48 in. (1828 mm x 1220 mm) overall
Commissioned as part of the First Prize, 2000 BP Portrait Award, 2002
Primary Collection
NPG 6609

Sitterback to top

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This portraitback to top

Russell studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and won the BP Portrait Award in 2000. Painted from life, this portrait was made in the actress’s London home over a period of three months.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Howgate, Sarah; Nairne, Sandy, A Guide to Contemporary Portraits, 2009, p. 26 Read entry

    Fiona Shaw (b. 1958) is one of Britain’s finest classical actresses. Her stage performances are characteristically controversial and powerful, notably her title roles in Richard II, Electra and Medea. Working from the figure is Victoria Russell’s passion. This portrait involved two to three sittings a week for three months at the actress’s London home. The artist found Shaw to be such a strong presence that she needed to work alone in her studio for several weeks to resolve the painting. The finished work, in which the subject is set against folds of drapery as a theatrical reference, is striking for its sheer scale and presence.

  • Nairne, Sandy (introduction), 500 Portraits: BP Portrait Award, 2011, p. 25
  • Nairne, Sandy; Howgate, Sarah, The Portrait Now, 2006, p. 132 Read entry

    This portrait of the acclaimed contemporary classical British actress, Fiona Shaw, is characteristic of Russell's commitment to capturing the essence of her sitters. The background has been stripped of any distractions, leaving the viewer alone with the sitter. This enables the viewer to become fully aware of the subject. The drapery in the background also acts as a reference to the theatre, the stage. Russell is concerned with empowering her sitters and often depicts her female sitters in minimal and unconventional clothing, a vehicle for re-appropriating female identity. Russell's interest in representations of the female has a certain resonance with Shaw, who has challenged the role of women in theatre. In 1995, Shaw famously played the part of Richard II.

  • Perry, Gill (introduction) Roach, Joseph (appreciation) and West, Shearer (appreciation), The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 2011 to 8 January 2012), p. 136

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Events of 2001back to top

Current affairs

Labour wins a second landslide general election victory campaigning on improvements to public services based on private finance projects. The Conservative party proved itself to be out-of-touch by ignoring public services and campaigning on the issue of Britain's membership of the EU. The day after the election William Hague resigned as leader of the Conservative Party.

Art and science

The Eden Project opens in Cornwall. The eco-centre, conceived by Tim Smit, replicates tropical and temporal climates and houses plants from all over the world in two domed biomes. The project is both a large-scale scientific experiment to study the environmental changes in different biomes over time, and a visitor attraction teaching the public about the natural environment.


On 11th September (9/11) America comes under foreign attack for the first time since Pearl Harbour when Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists hijack four planes, flying two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, and one into the Pentagon; the fourth plane crashed in a field.
George Bush launches his 'War on Terror' by invading Afghanistan to overthrown the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda.

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