ArtScene: Royal Portraitist I, Turner and McCullin at Tate

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London.  Just heard that my portrait of Prince Michael is to be unveiled on 22 October. Varnishing day is the week before.  A close run thing. And News Just In: I’ve been approached to do another royal portrait. How can this be?

There are strict rules. Painters are only allowed one royal and only once.  Protocol. No chance of the By Appointment: Dauber to HRH over the studio door.

So now I’m intrigued why I’m being sounded out for Royal Canvas Number 2.  I think it’s for a smart army regiment so perhaps lotso scarlet and gold. Love it.

prince michael FMG.jpgWithout thinking, I said I’d think about it because I’ve got two other portraits commissioned.  There was a sniffy silence. (Can silence be sniffy - ed?  When it’s a bit royal, too right it can - FG-M.  OK, just get on with it - ed) 

So Sniffy breaks the silence.  “I see”.  O dear.  I think they think that I think that they think I’m playing hard to get. A painter’s life doesn’t work that way. 

The next portrait is of the one of the loveliest men in the world and to boot, he’s a legendary round-the-world sailor, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and he’s got a hug like a nuzzling oak.

The one after that is a rather grand lawyer and the only Englishman I know who can sing Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika (the South African national anthem) in Zulu.  Which of course, as dear, dear Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner remarked, “has nothing to do with the case”.

Nevertheless, it means that I’m unlikely to have twenty hours of sittings with the subject humming songs from the shows.

And another thing, before the first sitting with HRH, I spent two days practicisng my curtsey and then some patronizing ding-dong said no need for the knee on the carpet jobbie, a bob would do.  So, what’s a girl with a bob to do? Thing is, once you’ve got the royal bob going, flaunt it I say. So, maybe another bob another royal is not a bad working philosophy.

My agent says go for it, but she’s sailing somewhere in the Mediterranean so I can just see where she may be coming from. My number one fan says it’s a fine regiment and I’ll get a good dinner on the day.  But he’s a writer, so assumes everyone’s always hungry.

Anyway, I’m off in the morning to teach a landscape class in Tuscany so I’ve got ten days to think about it. Any suggestions gratefully received at


Now, if you’re though London, go to Tate Britain. Don’t be fooled by the misleading Pre-Raphaelite poster for the Romantics. I had to ask twice where it was in the exhibition. It’s a predictable show until we get to the Turners. Big, bold, swirling skies, landscape and seas. Don’t miss his thick slabs of flattened paint, alongside oil thinned like water-colour with spots of canvas showing through.  Energy.  Movement. Light. Which is more than can be said for the stroppy woman on the Information Desk.  (Until June 2012)

 While you’re there, look at  Don McCullin’s photographs. Vietnam, Biafra, Lebanon and closer to his home, the despondency of homelessness in London. Nothing romantic about this harsh view of reality. You don’t have to bob or curtsey to get close to what McCullin’s about. (Until March 2012).

 ArtScene quote of the week: 'Photography isn’t looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures’ Don McCullin. 

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments areā€¦

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