OF THE MISSING BRATBY PAINTING
When I was a
news editor with BBC External Services (later renamed BBC World Service),
any mail for "Ian Richardson" would sensibly come to me,
as there was no-one else by that name on the corporation staff. This
mail would sometimes include fan letters for my actor namesake, who
made a name for himself in TV drama, not least in the television adaptation
of John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, then later in
the hugely successful BBC TV series House of Cards. I passed
on the fan mail to the other Ian Richardson, and over the years we
exchanged a number of chatty letters.
Late in 1982
I opened an envelope to find a letter from Royal Academy painter John
Bratby, known as the innovator of "kitchen sink realism".
It was an invitation to pose for an exhibition to be called The
Individual in the Growing Egalitarian Society. I learned that
the exhibition would include new portraits of the Queen Mother, Paul
McCartney, Sir Alec Guinness, Sir Michael, Roald Dahl and many other
other prominent folk.
invitation was not intended for me, so I wrote back to John, saying
how flattered I was, but the invitation was obviously for the actor
and had been forwarded to him. This amused John and he thought it
would be fun to paint both Ian Richardsons, so in March 1983 my wife
and I went to his house in Hastings where I sat for several hours
as he did the large portrait using a palette knife and oils.
sitting, John and I chatted about all manner of things, mostly related
to the role of the individual in society. His wife, Patti, brought
me several coffees in an outsized cup and saucer -- plus a frequent
supply of bacon sandwiches. She would take these opportunities to
study the progress of the portrait, then would return a few minutes
later to hand John her comments scribbled on a scrap of paper.
Here we are with
the end result:
A frequent comment from friends and family was that
the portrait represented how I would look in my seventies. Well, as
I am now galloping into my eighties, it is not for me to judge the
accuracy of those comments. Here's a recent photograph to help you
As John and I
parted at the end of the portrait session, he gave me a signed copy
of his book Breakdown. It was intended for his psychiatrist and already
had a hand-written dedication to him in the fly-leaf, but John simply
added my name and the date and handed it to me.
I don't know
how many copies of this book were sold, but I can't imagine the deeply
depressing cover would prompt many to rush it to the bookshop tills:
My actor namesake
initially agreed to be painted by John, but later changed his mind.
He died of a heart attack in February 2007. As far as I know, my portrait
never appeared among nearly 300 Bratby works on display at the exhibition
at the National Theatre in London.
to sell the portrait to me for £300, but I was so financially
stretched at the time that I couldn't afford it. Later, after John
had died and I was financially better off, I contacted Patti Bratby
to ask if the portrait was still available, but she couldn't find
it anyone among his collection.
A fine art dealer
with access to the Bratby archives has since tried, but failed, to
establish what happened to my portrait, although he found a note saying
that I liked it but was not, at that time, able to afford it.
were over-painted, but there was no mention of mine being among them.
The problem is that Bratby was a very prolific artist, and there are
many hundreds of his paintings held by various galleries and individuals.
So, is it still out there somewhere? Or did John decide to paint someone
else over my portrait and not note this in his files?
I hope to find
the answer one day. If you think you can help, please get in touch.
Since my initial
posting on this topic, I have been directed to a website that mentions
an unpublished Bratby archive, held by a rare book dealer. It includes
a note from Patti Bratby that "the wrong Ian Richardson"
turned up, but she and John decided "not to let on". Not
so. John and Patti were in no doubt that Ian Richardson (the BBC journalist)
had been invited to their Hastings studio. Further, I had helped them
get in touch with Ian Richardson (the actor).
Here's a photocopy
of John's original letter to the actor but received by me at the BBC.
As the quality is poor, the body of the letter has been re-typed:
Here's a copy
of my reply:
John Bratby promptly
responded, asking me to phone him:
I phoned John
as requested, and as a result of this conversation and further exchanges
of letters, a date was set for March 7 the next year for me to turn
up in Hastings to have my portrait added to his collection. Before
agreeing to this date, John wanted my thoughts on individualism, and
this is a copy of the letter I sent him:
With the aid
of the Internet I have been able to scroll through many of the hundreds
of portraits done by John, and the inescapable conclusion is that
I must have been just about the least famous person he painted.
Here's the rather
restrained, for him, portrait he did of the Queen Mother:
You can see many
more of his paintings simply by doing a browser search for "John
John and I had amiable and interesting written and spoken exchanges,
he was not merely controversial but intensely disliked by a number
of his associates. Here's just one indicator, an article from the
Royal Academy magazine in 2009: