Presenter Fiona Shaw delves into the history of British portraiture and explores the reasons why this artistic form has proved so enduringly popular in British art. Discussing the subject with artists such as Stuart Pearson Wright, photographers such as Sal Idriss, and historian David Cannadine, Shaw's explorations take in the court portraits of Richard II and Elizabeth I, tomb effigies and death masks, modern photographic portraits, and even the pictures we carry about with us on mobile phones.
Portraits are one of the great subjects of British art, and from school photos to passports portraits are also central to all our lives. In two films for Five, Fiona Shaw goes on a journey to explore pictures of people in history and today, starting with her own startling portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. She meets artists including the controversial painter Stuart Pearson Wright, Victoria Russell, who painted Fiona in 2002, and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, together with a host of sitters and subjects.
Why did monarchs like Richard II and Elizabeth I have their portraits made? Why, in an age drenched in digital photos, do artists continue to create portraits? And can works like Marc Quinn's portrait of eminent geneticist Sir John Sulston, created using a strand of the sitter's DNA, re-invent portraits for the twenty-first century? Fiona Shaw looks at celebrity portraits made two hundred years ago by Sir Joshua Reynolds and today by fashion photographer Rankin, at tomb effigies and death-masks, at the searching paintings of Francis Bacon, and at Tudor miniatures and the pictures that we carry around on their mobiles.
The British Face is produced in association with London's National Portrait Gallery and Five. The DVD includes exclusively twenty short films, each of which considers a single work from the collection.