Posted in Master's blog
Nicola Padfield by Beka Smith_8BA0477_DxO (Medium)

Nicola Padfield by Beka Smith (Acrylic on board 65x47cm)

No-one has ever had the task of painting my portrait before and Beka Smith rose magnificently to the task. (More to the point, I have never gone through the process of being painted before). She was a real pleasure to work with: always positive, and always smiling. I found the process interesting: would I sit or would I stand? Would she seek to convey specific messages through the portrait? Beka and I spent some time together as she worked out how she wanted to present me. She worked largely from photos so I didn’t spend long periods ‘sitting’: she came and snapped and snapped and snapped, and then worked away in her studio. The end result is brilliant: it captures something of my personality (though am I looking rather sad?) as well as the physical pose. And the details are fascinating – the details of the eyes, the hair, and things like the stray thread on the blouse sleeve button. (I chose that blouse because my husband Christopher (Engineering 1968) had recently made it for me: a tribute to his endless hard work behind the scenes as Master’s consort.)

I found the ‘unveiling’ very funny. Many people congratulated me on the portrait – but it was of course all Beka’s work. More importantly, the painting is very realistic: I couldn’t stop looking at that person pretending to be me, in the corner of the room … my alter ego, perhaps? She is not exactly as I see myself – but that is part of the intriguing business of portraiture. I am very happy with the ‘statement’: sitting down, leaning forward and listening. But she’s not entirely me: or maybe, she’s just one snapshot of me.

I was very interested at the time of the unveiling to learn of the work of alumnus artist Gerald O’Connell (Economics 1970). He has been painting homeless people, and his frank discussions of the painting processes (on the website which tracks his artist-in-residence project at St Mungo’s Broadway Trust) are, to me, intriguing. They are fabulous portraits, and it is fascinating how he comments on details: for example, ‘As I make small changes it becomes apparent that the area of the mouth is most important in conveying Richard’s personality. His face settles naturally into a quizzical half-smile, as though there is a private joke that he is permanently on the verge of sharing with us. Keeping hold of this impression will be an essential aspect of establishing and retaining the likeness.’

 

The three stages of painting Richard

The three stages of painting Richard (Gerald O’Connell)





Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.