I learnt to paint when I was only three years old! My father was an amateur wildlife painter and helped me to get started. When I was 20, I was invited to train under the Italian artist Pietro Annigoni at his studio in Florence. He became an important influence on my style and was a wonderful teacher. Subsequently, I became a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters when I was just 23 years old – I was the youngest member ever to be elected, and it was a great honour for me. During my career, I have been inspired by many artists, particularly the Old Masters. A great favourite is Leonardo da Vinci – like me, he remained true to his style throughout his lifetime.
I never worked from photographs, but as my work developed I became able to work from fewer sittings, and always finished the works off in my studio. I always knew when a work was completed – it was when I didn’t know what else to do! The most important part of portraiture is developing a relationship with your sitter – I found it easy to paint and talk at the same time, and it was very much a social occasion. I enjoyed painting portraits of friends and family too – I’ve just finished a portrait drawing of my three year old granddaughter.
For me, painting portraits of public figures and private commissions are exactly the same thing. The Queen is a person just like the rest of us! That said, painting the royals was a particular challenge – I have painted the Queen twice and the Queen Mother, as well as Princess Diana. The difficulty arises from the fact that they are figures who are in the public eye – everybody views them all the time, and everyone will view your painting, not just the family and friends of the sitter as in a private commission – so you have to remain very aware of your audience. It is also difficult to get enough time with them as they are so busy, but I was lucky enough to be granted 14 short sittings with the Queen.
As well as portraiture, I also enjoy wildlife painting, like my father. Outside of painting, I have enjoyed many other interests such as gardening, particularly growing orchids, as well as sports, shooting and fishing. When I was younger, I greatly enjoyed riding and thought I could have won the Grand National as I never fell off!
Image left: Evelyn Cruess Callaghan by Douglas Anderson RP