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Lily Cole portrait by Jonathan Yeo to make its debut at Laing Art Gallery Newcastle

Artist Jonathan Yeo's portrait of the model and actress will make up part of the National Portrait Gallery exhibition: Jonathan Yeo Portraits

© Jonathan Yeo 2014 Lily Cole by Jonathan Yeo
Lily Cole by Jonathan Yeo

A previously unseen portrait of actor, model and social entrepreneur Lily Cole will go on show in a new display of work by Jonathan Yeo opening at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, on Saturday.

The painting is one of several major new portraits which will be unveiled for the first time in Jonathan Yeo Portraits, which will run until February 1, and which will bring together many of the leading portrait artist’s best known works under one roof.

His portraits of Damien Hirst, Kevin Spacey, Sienna Milla and Tony Blair, as well as a preparatory sketch for the first painted portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai will all feature.

Jonathan Yeo Portrait painter Jonathan Yeo
Portrait painter Jonathan Yeo

The portrait of Lily Cole, who started modelling when she was 14 and graduated with a double first from Cambridge University in 2011, measures 100cm by 75cm, and depicts her as Helen of Troy, who she played on stage in 2014, in Simon Armitage’s Last Days of Troy.

Of the portrait, she said: “After over a year of discussion, when we finally organised the sittings, I was playing Helen at the Globe and was inspired by Jonathan’s powerful portrait of Kevin Spacey as Richard III. Jonathan came and watched the play and that became the basis of the portrait.

“He has done an extraordinary job of capturing my Helen in this image. When I look at it, I do not see myself, I see myself as another. I see Helen and what I came to know of her. I see the strength, the pain, and the penetrating gaze of a woman who has haunted the human imagination for several thousand years since she was understood as the catalyst for war. Perhaps most interestingly, I see her seeing us.”

Jonathan Yeo Damien Hirst, 2013, by Jonathan Yeo
Damien Hirst, 2013, by Jonathan Yeo

Jonathan said: “This painting of Lily Cole is for me the continuation of my interest in creating portraits of significant figures playing roles: in particular, the point where performance takes over from an actor’s own personality, which I began to explore with Kevin Spacey in his portrait as Richard III.

“When watching Lily on stage I was struck by her otherworldly presence and how her performance as Helen of Troy seemed to transcend any modern day context, taking the audience to a completely different space. I hope the painting conveys that sense, while at the same time doing what no stage performer ever does: engaging the viewer in a direct gaze.

“It’s always interesting when you’re painting someone who in their own right commands so much attention, but it gets even more exciting when they are inhabiting the role of another icon, and so I hope this portrait captures both of the personalities which are at play here.”

  • Jonathan Yeo Portraits will be at The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle from November 8 to February 15. This is a National Portrait Gallery exhibition and there will be an admission charge.


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