The other day, our friend – and our wedding photographer – Alex sent us a photo of this painting. It’s part of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ millennial People’s Portraits exhibition at Girton College, Cambridge. Members of the RP whose sitter books are a roll-call of the Establishment have chosen to immortalise farmers, lifeboatmen and social workers. I think this is a brilliant idea. I particularly like this portrait of Chris McCann, a scaffolder, by June Mendoza who has painted the Queen and Lady Thatcher.
(c) June Mendoza 2002
For one thing, Mendoza is particularly good at sitters with character – she has painted a large series of head studies of Chelsea Pensioners – and for another, Chris McCann looks a bit like Zak.
I was also impressed by the pose. This cross-legged contrapposto has a distinguished pedigree. It’s a big favourite of the Georgian portrait painters. Professor Ellis Waterhouse traces it back to Thomas Hudson’s portrait of the architect Theodore Jacobsen painted in 1743.
(c) The Thomas Coram Foundation
Waterhouse loathes it – ‘that foolish cross-legged style that haunted British portraiture for the next fifty years’ – but Mendoza’s portrait shows how natural it can be. It doesn’t come across as a portraitist’s in-joke. It just seems to be how McCann was standing and it gives him a real air of casual authority.