Lorna May Wadsworth is one of the UK's most acclaimed portrait painters. Having forged a remarkable career with her celebrated representations of sitters from the worlds of politics, entertainment and beyond, as she approached her 40th birthday she returned to the city of her birth - Sheffield - for a retrospective exhibition at the Graves Gallery.
Opening on 9 November 2019, GAZE: A Retrospective of Portraits by Lorna May Wadsworth showcased over 100 of her most striking images, including portraits of actors David Tennant and Michael Sheen, filmmaker Richard Curtis, author Neil Gaiman and former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher.
Lorna May Wadsworth's career in portraiture started aged 14 when she was asked to paint Sheffield's-own Jarvis Cocker by his grandmother. Since painting the Pulp frontman, she has gone on to capture an array of famous faces and see her paintings adorn the walls of Whitehall and join the permanent collection of HRH The Prince of Wales.
Political portraiture forms an important aspect of Wadsworth's work. GAZE includes her first major political portrait, of former Home Secretary and Labour peer, Rt. Hon. David Blunkett MP (2003), which was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and is now part of the collection of The Palace of Westminster. The exhibition also features works created during Wadsworth's appointment as artist in residence at the 2003 Labour Party Conference, including a study of the then Prime Minster, Tony Blair. Her 6-foot, 2007 painting of Baroness Thatcher (Private Collection) - created over five sittings - was the last formal portrait the former Prime Minister sat for, capturing in its bold brush strokes both the Iron Lady's steely strength of character and the vulnerability of a woman in the closing years of her life. It has been described by international art dealer Philip Mould OBE as "arguably the boldest formal life portrait of a prime minister ever painted in Britain."
Amongst the well-known figures from music, stage and screen on display at the Graves Gallery were portraits of actors Derek Jacobi, Rupert Friend, and musician, William Orbit. The exhibition also featured some of her most recent work, created as official artist for the hit BBC/Amazon TV series, Good Omens; visitors had a opportunity to see portraits of the series' stars, David Tennant and Michael Sheen, as well its creator, the award-winning author and screenwriter, Neil Gaiman.
GAZE also presented a new portrait of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams (now on display at Philip Mould & Company). Having first sat for Wadsworth in 2003 when newly installed as Archbishop, 16-years later Dr Williams requested that she was commissioned for his Masters portrait for Magdalene College, Cambridge.
GAZE included Wadsworth's critically acclaimed 12-foot-long oil on aluminium reworking of Leonardo's Last Supper (St George's Church, Nailsworth) from 2009, which was painted entirely from life with Jesus represented by black fashion model Tafari.
The exhibition also showcased Wadsworth's continuing exploration of the interplay between male beauty and the female gaze. The displays included work from her 2007 series, Beautiful Boys, as well as several portraits of her 'muse' and friend Joachim Gram, who she first painted for a solo exhibition at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London in 2010.
Lorna May Wadsworth says: "One of my earliest memories is doing a huge painting on the floor with a pot of gold paint and a lovely blobby brush at a Mappin Art Gallery summer art class. My mum had taken my older brother and I had begged and begged to be allowed to stay. I can trace my love of using 24 carat gold in my work to that day! The galleries of Sheffield would fill my head with wonder and possibility - the giant bear, Ruskin's perfect feather, the cabinet of little shoes - fed my imagination and set me on my course as an artist. To be having this retrospective exhibition in my home city is a phenomenal honour for me and a magical moment in my career. I hope that girls in the city might see my exhibition and be similarly inspired to pursue their creative dreams."
Liz Waring, Curator of Visual Art at Museums Sheffield, says: "Lorna May Wadsworth is one of Sheffield's most successful artistic exports. Her portraits of the influential and the intimate are both powerful and beguiling; we're delighted to bring together so many of them for this timely retrospective at the Graves Gallery."