Saturday, 29 January 2011

A portrait

Before the summer I received, through the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the commission of painting a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.

Ben Babington-Browne was a captain in the 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers. He died in a helicopter crash in the Zabul province on the 6th of July 2009. The portrait will hang in the refurbished mess of his Regiment in Hampshire.

I had been given some photos of Ben by his Regiment, and one of his friends gave me access to a large photo album which contained many pictures from his life and trips.
Browsing the album was very difficult: I felt I was intruding in Ben's life, but I needed good images to be able to paint an acceptable portrait. Looking at pictures of him I was often overwhelmed by sadness. Ben was a wonderful person, and all the words his colleagues have written about him can be read in his eyes.

My task was to paint Ben in Afghanistan. Among the photos I had there were some images of him on the snow which I thought could have a similar lighting situation as the desert.
I put together a composite of three different photos to build a reference for the picture. I wanted to represent Ben as the inspiring officer he was.

Painting him was a real honour and also a very emotional experience. I thought about him, his sense of duty, his attitude towards his task.

Yesterday I drove to Hampshire for the official unveiling of the portrait.
I had the chance of meeting Ben's friends, his brother and especially Nina, his mother.
Her words were very touching and I am happy I was able to give her a smaller copy of the painting for her to keep.

I have thought about Nina very much during the time I was working on Ben's portrait. I reflected about the feeling of a mother who is aware she might one day loose her son and I looked back and copied a painting by Giovanni Bellini which for me represents this emotion with subtle intensity.

After Bellini ( Madonna degli Alberetti, Venice Gallerie dell'Accademia), oil on board 2010

The portrait was very well received and the people who knew him commented that there was a strong likeness. I feel privileged to have been chosen to paint such a remarkable young man.

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