I was asked by the family of HRH Princess Alice to draw something ‘rather nice’ to celebrate her 80th birthday. Princess Alice is now the longest living member of the Royal Family. Born in 1901, she became an aunt to The Queen upon her marriage to The Queen’s uncle, Prince Henry, in November 1935.
I was granted one day of sittings at Barnwell Manor, then the Northamptonshire country house of Princess Alice and her son, the Duke of Gloucester. I had painted Princess Alice before, but only as a four-inch-high Deputy Colonel-in-Chief, presenting colours to one of her regiments in a vast picture of a big army parade ground. It was little preparation for this important assignment. My official brief was to produce an image that could be reproduced on a private greetings card, exclusively for the family.
Given that it was necessary to capture a happy look, I felt it was vital to keep the sitter animated, in order to sustain a warm and lively expression. Fortunately, Princess Alice was a keen amateur painter, and in her youth produced some delightful watercolours on her travels. During a break, she retrieved some of her sketchbooks for me to see. Her work was most impressive, as can be seen from the examples published in her autobiography. Looking through the sketchbooks rekindled her recollections of travelling in distant parts, and also prompted a trade in experiences of working in the field with watercolour. All in all, through luck and good fortune, the circumstances were perfect to produce the kind of picture that befitted such a milestone birthday.