LONDON – A striking new portrait of 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, among 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 theater 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.
“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, revitalizing the international reputation of British theatrer, made him an obvious choice for inclusion in my first display at the National Portrait Gallery,” said Yeo
“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 viewers to decide for themselves,” added Yeo.
It’s been Richard III’s year, from being unearthed in a Leicester Council parking lot to being on display at the National Portrait Gallery. That isn’t a bad showing for someone who’s been dead for six centuries.
“Jonathan Yeo Portraits” (Sept. 11 through Jan. 5), 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.
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