Daphne Todd: Portrait commissions, Messum's, London

4.00

It's often said that the love affair with conceptualism over the past 20 years has damaged the status of figurative painting. It would be more precise to say that portraiture has been a casualty. While it is widely practised and exhibited, its leading lights have not become household names in the way that the ageing young turks of Britart did.

Daphne Todd was the first woman to become president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. She is much admired by her peers and students of portraiture, but despite numerous awards and an OBE, has been insufficiently known outside that world. A recent book about her and her techniques helped remedy that, and this small show of her recent work demonstrates how she brings a soulfulness and haunting quality to portrait painting.

Take her picture of Lady Laing, wife of the industrialist. This was done while Lady Laing's husband was seriously ill, and anxiety is etched into the refined, aristocratic face. It slightly hurts to look at it.

Ms Todd has in recent years painted many of the great and good, for example Lord Armstrong of Ilminster – he who popularised the phrase "economical with the truth" – but the former Cabinet Secretary gives an assured confidence in his portrait. She has also painted many of the great and good of the arts, among them Sir Tom Stoppard, Spike Milligan, Dame Janet Baker and Sir Christopher Ondaatje.

And here I should declare an interest. For along with the great and the good of the cultural world is one of the not so great and only intermittently good – myself. As someone who has sat for the artist, I can testify to the silent but searching interrogations in her gaze every few minutes before she applies paint to canvas, and the desire to bring to that canvas your innermost thoughts and anxieties.

It has been said of Daphne Todd that she explores the landscape of a face in the same way she examines the face of a landscape. Certainly she can find a resonance between human emotion and a still life. In this exhibition a touching portrait of isolation entitled Girl Inside is hung next to her picture of a desolate flower, A Lily Alone. I found myself looking from one to the other and back again, unsure which to be more concerned for, human or plant.

A small but disquieting show.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk