Catherine Goodman, ‘The Cook’ Sally Clarke. Copyright: Catherine Goodman. Image courtesy of NPG
LONDON — The portrait of Sally Clarke unveiled during Catherine Goodman: Portraits of Life at the National Portrait Gallery is very telling. The larger-than-life sized portrait allows an insight into the life of this celebrated London restaurateur.
Sally Clarke is the owner of CLARKE’S in Kensington, one of London’s most esteemed restaurants. In Goodman’s portrait, Clarke is depicted wearing her ‘chef’s whites’, reflecting the skill for which she is well-known. Painted during regular sittings at Goodman’s Chelsea studio over the last six months, the portrait shows Clarke’s head and shoulders, which fill the canvas. With her gaze directed slightly to the left of the viewer, she appears to be in deep thought and focused, perhaps, about the next meal to cook.
Clarke’s portrait is just one of the images in Catherine Goodman: Portraits from Life presently at the National Portrait Gallery. The show also includes portraits of film director Stephen Frears, author and broadcaster Daisy Goodwin, novelist Vikram Seth, Harry Parker, ex-soldier and Prince’s Drawing School student, and lawyer Diana Rawstron. All works are been exhibited for the first time
While all the portraits are outstanding in their own rights, the piece that continues to gain the dominate attention is Clarke’s portrait. This is not just because of the amazing skill brought to bear in capturing this celebrity chef, but also because this exhibition has been used to unveil the portrait. Interestingly, this is not the first time an exhibition has been devoted to the unveiling Clarke’s portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. In 2012, Lucian Freud’s 2008 portrait of Clarke was the star attraction at the National Portrait Gallery’s landmark exhibition of the artist works. The portrait was unveiled for the first time during that historic exhibition.
Although Freud’s and Goodman’s portraits of Clarke have not been exhibited side by side, art professionals are already drawing a comparison between the two portraits. Comparing Goodman’s portrait of Clarke with Freud’s, Dr Charles Saumarez Smith CBE, Secretary and Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Arts, says: ‘Catherine’s portrait stands comparison with Lucian’s. It is equally painterly, less expressionistic, and conveys the depths of Sally’s personality, her thoughtfulness, as well as her reticence and sometimes unknowability.’
Catherine Goodman: Portraits from Life is another mile stone in the artistic career of this painter and portraitist. This is the first time her work is been shown at the National Portrait Gallery. Goodman first came to the attention of the NPGback in 2002 when she was awarded first prize in the BP Portrait Award for her painting of Dom Antony Sutch, master of Downside College.
Looking through all the works on display, there is no doubt that Goodman is an outstanding painter. Besides trying to capture the resemblance of the subject, she also presents a psychological and emotion representation that is often hidden from the untrained eyes. Exposing hidden emotions is a skill nurtured through experience and years of practice. Over the years, Goodman has developed a sensibility that has driven her to embrace and examine human vulnerability. While this rare exceptional human attribute can be traced back to her relationship with a disabled sister, whom she has drawn and painted for over twenty-five years, it also shows her amazing ability to excavate the depth of the human soul. For Goodman, this is the essence of portrait painting: ‘The process of making a portrait is fundamental for me. The long periods of time spent in the studio together mean that trust develops between us and relationships deepen. For me, good portraits have psychological depth but it’s not something that comes without mining’.
Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator at the National Portrait Gallery and curator of the exhibition, keenly observed and studied the artist during the process of painting some of the works on display in this show explains that ‘Catherine believes in direct drawing and painting, piercing observation and constantly re-visiting the subject. As I’ve watched these portraits evolve in the studio I’ve been struck by their shared intensity and how her subjects appear to be looking inwards. It will be fascinating to see how these quiet portraits of the interior sit amongst some of the more official, honorific portraits at the Gallery.’
All the portraits in this show were done in Goodman’s London studio, and were completed within the past three years. Each portrait is distinct and bears the characteristic and ambience that adequately represent the subject. In spite of all the different atmosphere and environment permeating the paintings, they all have one common element that unifies all of them: a duck-egg blue chair. Goodman inherited the chair from Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire, which was the home of her great-grandmother, the Bloomsbury group socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell.
The duck-egg blue chair is a significant object and prop in all these paintings. It not only supports the subjects, it also enhances their characters. In some instances, the chair also exudes its own character. But, perhaps, what is most significant about the chair is what it reveals about the artist herself. The insertion of the chair in these portraits reveals some hidden psychological aspect of the painter’s life, her relationship with her mother and her home. Besides keeping the memories of her mother alive in many minds, the chair also situate Goodman’s mom amongst elites and socialite.
Catherine Goodman: Portraits from Life shows the power of portraiture. From one portrait to the other, the characters of the subjects shine through. With her dexterity as a painter and outstanding portrait techniques, Goodman exposes the hidden feelings and emotions of the subjects she captured. She dug deep, excavating their minds and soul in a manner that reveals trust between painter and subject. Evidently, this is not just a show about portraiture or portrait painting. It is a show about human understanding.