Lennon, Thatcher, Henry VIII star in 'Face of Britain'

Mon Nov 16, 2015 11:42am EST
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By Jeremy Gaunt

LONDON (Reuters) - What do John Lennon, Margaret Thatcher, Henry VIII and West Indian immigrants in 1956 London have in common? They are all, according to British historian Simon Schama, part of "The Face of Britain".

Schama - known to worldwide audiences for his 15-part documentary "A History Of Britain" - has curated a small but delightfully precise exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery.

It takes a thematic approach. Rather than starting with portraits of early Britons and heading towards the modern, the exhibition is presented in five rooms dedicated to "Power", "Love", "Fame", "Self" and "People".

This approach allows for some fascinating juxtapositions.

In "Power", for example, Thatcher, Britain's first woman prime minister, shares space with Henry VIII, the king who ruled England from 1509 to 1547.

Both portraits - respectively, a sitting by Rodrigo Moynihan and a painting by George Vertue after Remigius van Leemout and Hans Holbein the Younger - tell a tale about their subjects.

Henry is portrayed with his third wife, Jane Seymour, but also with his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The message is one of legitimacy in a dynasty - the Tudors - that at the time was still fairly vulnerable.

The Thatcher portrait was apparently subject to much interference from the sitter, who was renowned for her strident views and penchant for control. The painting, as a result, is rather bland.   Continued...

Artist Chris Levine poses next to his lenticular image of Britain's Queen Elizabeth during a press view at the National Portrait Gallery in London, Britain in this May 16, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files