Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Daphne Todd Exhibition at the Mall Galleries

I went to the Private View of the Daphne Todd exhibition at the Mall Galleries on Monday night. It is an excellent exhibition and looked extremely impressive in the Threadneedle Space.  I can only imagine more and more of the FBA artists will want to start having focused exhibitions of their own work in this space.

Landscapes by Daphne Todd
Threadneedle Space, Mall Galleries
I had a chance to speak with Daphne before the exhibition opened and she told me about the paintings in the exhibition and also about her experience of being an Official Artist on a Royal Tour.

The exhibition is open until Sunday 23 December 2012, 10am to 5pm.  It's an excellent complement to the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters which opens today in the other two galleries.

About Daphne Todd 

For those who not familiar with Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC, she's well known as an advocate of representational and figurative artwork - and the traditional values of painting from observation rather than from photos.

She's is best known for her portrait work and is the Past President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (1994-2000) - and indeed is the first and only woman to hold that role to date.  In 2010 she won the BP Portrait Award (which is when I first interviewed her) with a portrait painting of her mother on her death bed. She'd previously won the 2nd prize in the same competition back in 1983. Daphne is also a member of the New England Art Club.  In 2002 she was awarded an OBE for her services to the Arts.

She did her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art (when Coldstream was Principal).  She spent most of her six years at the Slade painting in the life room - which I guess is something that would be very difficult to do these days

She considers herself simply an analytical painter of the seen world.

Official Artist on a Royal Tour

I was wondering how Daphne got the job of Official Tour Artist. Apparently she had been asked to paint the Prince of Wales but her request for the normal number of sittings she would require and her refusal to paint from photos meant this appeared to present an insurmountable difficulty due to the fact that HRH has an extremely busy diary.  Daphne was offered the Tour Artist commission an an alternative - a sort of consolation prize.

The Prince is a very keen watercolour painter and is consequently very aware of how long a painting takes.  There's certainly no prescription as to what the Official Artist does on a Royal Tour and it seems to be left very much up to the Artist.  Some do studies and work from photos back in the studio when they get home - however that's not Daphne's way of doing things!

She knew there was no chance of being able to follow the Prince around given the number of engagements on one day.
The catalyst for this exhibition was the quite extraordinary experience of trying to paint - anything at all - during the frantic pace of a 10 day Royal Tour.  It made me particularly conscious of the way physical limitations affect the final outcome when painting only from direct observation, as I do.  Obvious perhaps but easily forgotten when almost all representational paintings made today ely upon photographs and are painted in the studioDaphne Todd - introduction to the exhibition catalogue
Hence her goal on the Tour was to produce one landscape painting a day of the places they were visiting.  Her paintings were "of the place" rather than literally of specific places relating to individual engagements on the tour - although sometimes they coincided. This meant that sometimes the Royal Tour passed through the painting and on other occasions they were nowhere near.

In a way, she was painting in the tradition of Canaletto and those other artists producing topographical paintings for the aristocracy on their Grand Tour.  Even today, on return to the UK it's so much nicer to have a painting of a place rather than photographs - particularly if you're interested in art and a painter yourself!

Royal Tour of Africa with HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall 
Paintings by the Official Artist: Daphne Todd 
(private collection)
oil on board, 11 x 12 inches
Her absolute priority at all times on Tour was to finish in time to catch the transport for the next leg of the tour.  She was warned in advance that this was absolutely essential as a Royal Tour waits for no one and anybody who is late gets left behind. (Apparently one Tour Artist had to be flown home on one occasion after missing the transport!)

Royal Tour of Africa with HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall (private collection)
Kilmanjaro appearing in the afternoon
oil on board, 11 x 23.75 inches
© Daphne Todd
On the last day determined to catch Kilimanjaro, I had to paint for the first couple of hours with the mountain totally invisible, relying on my guide's assertion that it WOULD appear in that section of the skyDaphne Todd - introduction to the exhibition catalogue
Interestingly there was a spin off to the Tour.  On the way back to the UK she was invited forward to the Royal Cabin to show the paintings she'd been working on during the tour.  As a result, there was a renewed discussion about the portrait of HRH - and it was agreed it could happen.  It's now been painted and I look forward to seeing it some point in the future.

Daphne's strategy for painting somebody from life who can only give a limited number of sittings is to get the measuring and the background sorted first.  This in effect reduces the amount of measuring that has to be done during the painting of the portrait as the reference points for crossovers and angles have already been established.

Artwork in the Daphne Todd Exhibition

I'm very familiar with portraits by Daphne Todd and particularly admire the painterliness, her exuberant use of colour and the 3D nature of the people in her portraits.  On top of that, the analytical work goes beyond the strictly literal representation and there is always a very strong sense of what sort of person the sitter is.

Portraits by Daphne Todd (private collections)
She habitually works on board, now works on a grey ground, always has a completely matte finish and her paintings sometimes grow organically.  She starts with what interests her - what grabs her attention.  There is no drawing, no thumbnails and no preliminary studies - she goes straight in with the brush.

Sometimes, on reflection a decision is made to extend the painting - and hence they can grow.  The portrait on the left has been extended twice to add in more and more of the body of the sitter - but not necessarily any more of the background.  In this way, her paintings can tell a story about the process of painting as well as a story about the person.  Some people just need more space!

I'm much less familiar with her still life work and landscapes - both of which are well represented in the show.  There are several small still life works which I think may well walk off the walls.  One had certainly sold before the PV started!  I was very taken with the work top left in the image below.

Still Life Works by Daphne Todd
The most memorable paintings in the exhibition are the landscapes - with an interesting contrast between large paintings done some 40 years ago in Spain and the smaller ones done very recently in Africa.  (You can also see more on her website - see link at end)

I particularly liked the Spanish landscapes.  They're very flat and matte and reminded me of Renaissance frescos in terms of the way the buildings and structures are described and the flatness of the paint.  They seemed to me to be very like some traditional egg tempera paintings.

She told me the Spanish paintings were done over a couple of years while she lived in Spain. She was painting straight on to the wood with a yellowish ground to complement the place. Her intention was always to have a very flat painting and she described the actual process of painting as being somewhat akin to trowelling it on and pressing it into the wood keep it flat on the surface.

I am completely in love with the way she paints vegetation - both in terms of strong sense of the real structure, shape and pattern of foliage and the way in which she interprets all of this in oil paint.  I love her umbrella pines! Her landscapes are to my mind an object lesson in painting vegetation for very many artists who paint landscapes.

Garraf (exhibited at the RA 1978) (£18,250)
oil on panel, 47 x 70 inches
© Daphne Todd
Pink rocks at Castel del Fera (£6,850)
Oil on panel, 31 x 30 inches
© Daphne Todd
Rocky Hill with Pylons, Garraf (£7,250)
Oil on Panel, 37 x 36 inches
© Daphne Todd
There is also a blog post about the exhibition on the Heatherley's blog - see New exhibition by Daphne Todd OBE


Two videos which may be of interest

Plus more of her artwork can be seen on her website
You can also view more of her landscapes, still lifes and figure studies at Messums Gallery in Cork St.  Plus her work is regularly displayed in the RSPP and NEAC exhibitions at the Mall Galleries.

Note: The Slade School of Fine Art is number one in this year's Guardian University League Table for Art and Design. See


  1. I love reading your blog, Katherine. So full of wonderful work, new artists (new to me, I mean), schools and tidbits. I didn't know the Prince of Wales was a watercolorist himself! Daphne Todd's portraits are absolutely fabulous. I do like her grapes still life as well. I do like her landscapes too though I've seen others I like more in that genre. For me, I do like working from photographs for the convenience. It takes me so long to get a piece sketched that I'd never be able to do a whole piece in a sitting/visit. Anyway, I do like her philosophy and do agree with it on many levels.

  2. Katherine, this is a great post. I really enjoyed getting to know this artist and appreciated being able to follow the various links including the videos. I was familiar with her name but not the work and it was a pleasure to see it and hear about her methods (particularly her landscape work!) Of course her reverence for and commitment to working from life resonates with me and also her determination to see these working methods imparted to the next generations.

  3. Thank for such a full and enlightening post. I love the way your posts open my eyes and lead me down different paths. I really enjoyed finding out more about Daphne Todd, thank you


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