Juliet Pannett

Prolific portraitist, in oils and for the press
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The Independent Online

Juliet Pannett was an energetic portraitist whose paintings and drawings of writers, artists, musicians, politicians, medical and military figures and members of the Royal Family featured not only in exhibitions but also in newspapers and periodicals. As special artist for the Illustrated London News from 1957 to 1964 she had her own seat in the press gallery of the House of Commons, from which she made a memorable sketch of Sir Winston Churchill leaving for the last time. Pannett portrayed nine prime ministers in all - others including Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.

The exhibition "Juliet Pannett: Chronicler of Her Times", which opened at the National Portrait Gallery in December last year and closed a few weeks ago, celebrated her work as the gallery's oldest living artist. Despite poor health and aged 93, Pannett was able to attend the private view of her drawings from the collection.

She was born Juliet Somers in Hove, Sussex, in 1911. Her mother, May Brice, who came from a family of London mantle makers and had a strict schooling, had developed a youthful passion for a vicar which proved abortive, then was proposed to by the much older Charles Somers, a professional gambler who squandered the family's money. Juliet was the fifth of their seven children, four girls and three boys.

Juliet received early encouragement from her mother, who gave her pencil and paper to sketch in her pram. It seemed natural that she would progress to Brighton School of Art aged 16, her teachers including that fine watercolourist Charles Knight, Louis Ginnett and Morgan Rendle. It was a thorough training, preparing her to cope with drawing in pastel and charcoal, painting in oils and watercolour and wood engraving.

By the age of 18 she was producing series of drawings of characters for the local papers and magazines. She drew many players for the Sussex County Cricket Club and Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. She earned her living as an artist until 1938, when she married Captain Maurice Pannett. He had served in the Devonshire Regiment, was then bursar at Bromsgrove School, and would soon be called up again during the Second World War.

After the war the family moved to Rose Hill School, in Gloucestershire, where Maurice took a teaching post, then in 1949 to Croydon, Surrey, where Juliet turned her garage into a studio and resumed her artistic career. She joined the Croydon Art Society and drew local characters for the Croydon Advertiser. Painting had been difficult after marriage as she brought up her two children, Denis and Elizabeth, who both became artists. London offered the best opportunities for her talents. As the family lacked a car, this meant lugging her heavy bag of materials a mile to the station and back, in addition to the responsibilities of looking after her family. Maurice's prep-school salary being modest, paying guests helped finances.

Juliet Pannett became a familiar figure sketching at the Albert Hall and Festival Hall, often attending orchestra rehearsals. She also attended jazz clubs, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman among her many musician subjects. They would often sign the completed portrait.

The coming decades saw her exhibiting prolifically. She showed in mixed exhibitions at the Royal Academy, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Pastel Society, City of London Art Exhibition and other shows in London and abroad. There were family exhibitions as well as solo shows at the Cooling and Qantas Galleries. There was also extensive work for the printed page, clients including the national daily papers, Radio Times, The Law Guardian and book publishers. If meeting a deadline meant dropping everything and rushing the drawing to London, she would do it. She was special artist for several inaugural flights for Qantas Airlines, Trans Canada Airlines and the Israeli airline El Al. She also taught on P&O cruises around the world.

In 1963, Pannett was commissioned by the Devon & Dorset Regiment to paint a portrait of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, their colonel-in-chief, and in the 1970s further royal portraits followed, of Prince Andrew, commissioned by the Painter-Stainers' Company as a gift to the Queen, and Prince Edward as a gift to the Queen from the Royal Household. In 1989, Pannett was commissioned by the Chartered Insurance Institute to paint a large oil portrait of the Queen, now hanging in their offices in Lothbury, in the City. A further portrait of the Queen was commissioned for presentation by the Duke of Edinburgh to the island of Malta in recognition of 25 years of independence.

In 1964 the Pannett family moved to Angmering, Sussex, where Juliet had a spacious studio and entertained many famous people as sitters. An indication of the range of her subjects can soon be seen in London at Bonhams, New Bond Street, which is holding in October a sale of the Roy Davids collection of portraits of writers, artists and musicians that includes 17 of her works. Among her subjects are the poet Charles Causley, playwright Christopher Fry, writer Leonard Woolf, conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, composer Sir Lennox Berkeley and violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Angmering facilitated development of the Pannett family art courses, from 1973 to 1992. Students painted Sussex landscape subjects in the open air and at the end of the week an exhibition would be held. Some students went on to become serious artists. In 1985 there was a Pannett family exhibition at the Arun Art Centre, in Arundel, nine members from three generations contributing.

In her eighties, Juliet Pannett's eyesight deteriorated. Her last major portrait was of General Sir John Wilsey, colonel of the Devon & Dorsets, painted for the regiment in 1988.

David Buckman

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