Lorna May Wadsworth (b.1979)
Seen here in her Notting Hill atelier studio, Wadsworth presents Grant as a powerful contemporary icon surrounded by the bold designs upon which she has built her reputation...
The Milliner is a work that fully embraces an understanding of the rich and varied histories of both hat making and the portrait tradition. It marks a significant contribution to the genre of contemporary British portraiture in its innovative approach to the depiction of celebrated milliner Victoria Grant. Artist Lorna May Wadsworth imbues her representation of Grant with a tangible sense of command, the expression of which can be traced back to the full-length mercantile portraits fashionable in the 18th Century predominantly popularised by the innovations of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792). Wadsworth expands upon this historical tradition bringing in further influences from high society portrait painters such as John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). And yet the present work marks a highly celebratory departure from a period aesthetic.
Barefoot and confidently resting her chin upon her clenched fist, Grant is shown in full command of the space in which she inhabits. Seen here in her Notting Hill studio, Wadsworth presents Grant as a powerful contemporary icon surrounded by the bold designs upon which she has built her reputation. It is a painting that emanates a sense of individual identity and a profound respect for the sitter. Wadsworth has encapsulated Grant, the Milliner in a portrait of great contemporary cultural significance and one that will surely endure.
Lorna May Wadsworth was born in Sheffield and currently operates from her studio in East London. She rose to prominence in the contemporary art world before she had even graduated University, having been commissioned to paint such notable public figures as the Rt. Hon. David Blunkett and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. Her most acclaimed work to date is arguably her monumental portrait of the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher completed from five sittings taken from life in 2007. The resultant painting is one of the most commanding formal portraits of a British Prime Minister in the history of political portraiture and now hangs at the Conservative Party headquarters, London.
She is an artist that continues to challenge the portrait tradition and a recurrent theme throughout her work is the inversion of the gendered gaze. In the long history of Western art, the canon invariably favours the female subject as seen through the eyes of the male artist. In her series Beautiful Boys Wadsworth transfers the balance of power so that she, the artist, holds the gaze of the male subject and places him on display for all to see. In The Milliner she confronts the sitter Victoria Grant as an equal and presents her as a determined fellow artist.