The Net Gallery’s latest scan went live on Thursday, 28th May. A partnership between TNG, artist Tom Croft and the Contemporary British Portrait Painters (CBPP), the virtual exhibition showcases portraits of NHS staff created during the current coronavirus crisis. Organized to help support the ongoing COVID-19 relief effort by celebrating frontline workers, the exhibition provides an opportunity for viewers to donate to NHS Charities Together.
Fifteen of the top portrait painters currently living and working in the UK feature in the exhibition, which was installed and scanned at Fitzrovia Chapel, the former chapel of Middlesex Hospital. The exhibited artists, all members of the CBPP, are: Angela Bell, Tim Benson, James Bland, Clive Bryant, Tom Croft, James Crowther, Peter Davis, Jane French, Ian Goldsmith, Steven Higginson, Danny Howes, Thomas Leveritt, Michael James Monaghan, Peter Monkman and Patrick Morales-Lee.
Oxford-based Tom Croft started the Portraits for NHS Heroes project in March when he offered a free portrait to the first NHS worker to reply to a post on social media, encouraging other artists to follow suit. Represented online with the hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes, the project has seen thousands of artists take part around the world, with people in different countries launching their own versions of the initiative.
To showcase some of the amazing work that’s been created, The Net Gallery worked with Croft to curate a focused selection of NHS portraits by CBPP members, a group that Croft himself is a member of. The original paintings were reproduced as prints, before being installed and scanned by a small team following social distancing guidelines. Fitzrovia Chapel was chosen as the venue, both because of its beautiful and uplifting interior, but also because of its close connection to a hospital that for over two centuries was one of the most important in London.
Among the paintings featured is a portrait of Tasha Rainsley, a Staff Nurse working for the NHS in East Sussex, completed in oil on panel by Ian Goldmsith, the founder of the CBPP. Goldsmith is a British representational artist whose work makes use of a scientific eye and innovative techniques. His paintings explore the interplay of light and colour with the subject, and his portrait of Rainsley is no exception.
I think when all this started, many of us were feeling a little helpless, including a lot of the professional artists in the CBPP and we very much wanted to help in some way. Obviously we couldn’t offer any medical help, but we could paint the people who were offering that help, the NHS staff. – Ian Goldsmith, Artist.
The background colours used in Goldsmith’s painting are taken from the navigation map at the entrance to Eastbourne District General Hospital. The artist selected these colours to serve as a reminder that although this portrait depicts just one member of staff, it’s meant to represent all hospital workers.
Another noteworthy part of the collection is the portrait of Izzy Speight by Danny Howes, painted in oils on a linen panel. Howes worked to capture the physical and emotional drain of the current situation on NHS staff members. Izzy Speight began her nursing career in February 2020 – just four months ago – and was plunged straight into the middle of a pandemic situation.
I never imagined having my portrait painted as an NHS nurse during a pandemic, but Danny Howes had a clear idea to create my portrait using photos I took having just completed a 13 hour shift in full PPE. When I saw the finished painting I was struck by the emotion Danny had captured, reflecting the pressures that nurses and the NHS are under. – Izzy Speight, Subject and Staff Nurse.
Available on The Net Gallery website, the Portraits for NHS Heroes virtual exhibition has been designed to resemble as closely as possible the experience of viewing the portraits in person, and to create a sense of interconnectivity at this time of isolation.
You can take a virtual walkthrough of the exhibition at: https://thenetgallery.com/portraits-for-nhs-heroes/.
The portraits project has captured the honesty, rawness and reality of the NHS during the pandemic. Ordinary people doing their jobs – suddenly thrust into the focus and spotlight. My portrait captured so much of what that day (26/03/20 08:55hrs) was about – wanting to show strength, positivity and the person behind the FFP3 respirator mask. – Jo Habben, Subject and Frontline Worker, painted for Portraits for NHS Heroes by Jane French.