Barristers as patrons of painted portraits


In an industry where people are the most valued commodity it is unsurprising that they are treasured and memorialised through portraiture. Over the years, barristers have been important patrons of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, using their commissions service in both a private and public capacity.

Baroness Hale, someone who is very much the focus of attention at the moment, deserves special accolade from portrait artists – having been the subject of many portraits. She has been painted at different points throughout her career. Here, we see her in public roles as President of the Supreme Court, in her office at the House of Lords and as Chancellor of the University of Bristol. Collectively, they mark a great life of achievement.  Conrad Dehn QC, Private Commission, by Daphne Todd OBE RP

In the public sphere, most portraits are commissioned as an acknowledgement of achievement and inspiration for future generations. Interestingly, in the private domain, the motivations for commissioning are similar, though these tend to focus on more personal milestones involving love and legacy.  The occasion for the “public portrait” is often retirement, while many personal portraits are commissioned to commemorate birthdays or anniversaries.

For instance, Conrad Dehn’s portrait was commissioned by his wife for a significant birthday.  Daphne Todd was chosen as the artist and they clearly had a great rapport. The portrait has a tangible sense of connection and warmth. Dehn was ‘tickled pink’ when Daphne Todd mentioned in a radio interview that  she felt he had deliberately manipulated her to produce the smiling image you see.  Daphne went on to draw him for Fountain Court Chambers, where she drew a series of Heads of Chambers.

Artist and sitter often form a trusting and enjoyable relationship. Many long-lasting friendships are often formed during sittings.

A personal and intellectual relationship lies at the heart of Michael Taylor‘s portrait of Paul Becket, each enjoying the other’s interrogative mind. Paul, a human rights lawyer, family man and collector of tattoos is also ‘Mad Manx’ the boxer in his spare time. He was rigorously examining his own complicated psyche when this work was commissioned. References to eternity and mortality pervade Michael’s painting. The result is a work of art which is in itself a meditation on the human condition and on strength and ephemerality, in addition to being a portrayal of a very particular individual.

The best portraits address the particularity of the individual and the nature of the human condition as well as capturing something of the soul of the artist so, when commissioning a portrait, it is very important to choose the right artist. It is this alchemy between the artist and their subject that gives life to the work of art.  That is why the Royal Society of Portrait Painters employ me to help with this and oversee the commissions process. 

Patronage is critical to this genre of painting, so why not do your bit for art and commission a portrait whether it be for love, legacy or the adventure of collaborating with an artist.

Annabel Elton, Head of Commissions
0207 9680963


Lady Hale, Chancellor of the University of Bristol, by Keith Breeden

Baroness Hale of Richmond, for the House of Lords, by June Mendoza AO OBE RP

Brenda Hale, President of the Supreme Court of Justice, for Hon. Soc. Gray’s Inn, by David Cobley RP

Conrad Dehn QC, Private Commission, by Daphne Todd OBE RP

Paul Beckett, Private Commission, by Michael Taylor RP