The Sitter's Tale: Muriel Spark

From the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: the great author used her intuition on the red scarf
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The Independent Culture
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery wrote to me and asked if I'd sit for Sandy Moffat. I asked if I could think about it, but in the meantime they booked it up. At the time there was a very nice curator, Duncan Thomson, whom I liked very much, so I didn't mind.

Sandy Moffat's portrait of me is a striking picture but bears no likeness to myself. Nobody recognises me. I spent one week in Edinburgh about 15 years ago with five sittings. Objectively I think it looks like a good poster. The artist didn't try to get to know me; in fact, he seemed only to want to fill in sessions with extra sketches. He has given me yellow hair with a navy-blue parting. It looks like dyed hair, but I've never coloured my hair, I've never needed to do so. Although I'm 81 I still have my natural light reddish hair and freckles, which is part of my "look". The portrait has somehow altered all that.

Sandy Moffat didn't know what I should wear. I had a black suit and a sweater with a thin black-and-grey stripe which he made into broad footballer stripes. I put on a red scarf through my own intuition; it cheered the artist up, he was quite gloomy. He said to me, the picture is called "The Red Scarf", and that, in fact, is what it is. I was just a model for "The Red Scarf" by Sandy Moffat. It isn't me at all; the author of my books is just not there.

Sandy gave me the name of a good restaurant in Leith, and recommended some brands of whisky to take home, for which I'm grateful. I don't regret it, I never regret anything like that. But I hope to do another portrait some time. I would like to be in the National Portrait Gallery in England as well.

Alexander Moffat's 1984 portrait hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200)

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