A major new portrait of the actor Kevin Spacey as Richard III will be one of several new works by Jonathan Yeo to be included in a major display of the artist’s work at the National Portrait Gallery this September.The large painting shows Spacey in role as Shakespeare’s notorious king, amongst his most acclaimed roles, during his tenure as artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre. Painted during the run of Sam Mendes’s 2011 Old Vic production, the oil-on-canvas work draws on the great tradition of the theatre portrait. Believed to be the actor’s first ever portrait Spacey is shown in full costume having been painted by Yeo both in his studio and on stage. Yeo saw him play the role both with and without an audience, and sketched and took photos of him working backstage.Dominating the canvas, Spacey wears a rakishly tilted crown and peers directly at the viewer.
Jonathan Yeo says: ‘When Kevin came to London to take over the Old Vic, critics were lining-up to predict that he’d only last a few months before jumping straight on a plane back to Hollywood. The fact he has stuck at it for 10 years, revitalising the international reputation of British theatre, made him an obvious choice for inclusion in my first display at the National Portrait Gallery.
‘We decided to put him in character as Shakespeare’s notorious villain, partly as a nod to the tradition of theatrical portraits of the past, and partly as a celebration of what may go down as his most memorable stage role. The main dilemma with painting a great actor in a role is knowing how much you are portraying the man and how much the character he is playing. In the end I tried to leave it to the viewer to decide for themselves. It’s been Richard III’s year, from being unearthed in a Leicester Council car park to being on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Not a bad showing for someone who’s been dead for six centuries!’
Jonathan Yeo Portraits (11 September 2013-5 January 2014), the National Portrait Gallery’s first display dedicated to the artist’s work, will include innovative portraits – all produced from life – of some of today’s leading cultural, media and political figures, many of whom sat for portraits for the first time with Yeo.
The display will present an overview of the artist’s work to date, beginning with the drawings he made of the party leaders on the 2001 campaign trail, and including private studies of his family and portraits of well known figures such as media mogul Rupert Murdoch, model Erin O’Connor, artist Grayson Perry and actress Sienna Miller.
Jonathan Yeo is one of the most highly regarded portrait painters working in Britain today. A regular exhibitor in its BP Portrait Award, the National Portrait Gallery commissioned Yeo to paint a portrait of broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson in 2010.
Jonathan Yeo Portraits is curated by the Gallery’s Contemporary Curator, Sarah Howgate, whose exhibitions include the highly successfulLucian Freud Portraits (2012) and David Hockney Portraits (2006).
She says: ‘We are excited to be showing Jonathan Yeo’s portraits as part of our ongoing series of projects with contemporary artists from Alex Katz to Humphrey Ocean. Yeo is remarkable in the range of sitters he portrays from life and this display will include some surprising contemporary figures who have never sat for a portrait artist before.’
Jonathan Yeo Portraits, supported by the David Ross Foundation and The Tony Banks Memorial Trust Ltd, is in the Contemporary Collection displays on the Ground Floor Lerner Galleries, National Portrait Gallery, London, 11 September 2013-5 January 2014. Admission free.
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