Dame Joan Sutherland

Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, 2001

I was invited to attend the Camberwell Rotary Art Show, Melbourne, Australia, in 2001 as the International Judge. I had to select pictures for what is now the largest representational art show in the southern hemisphere – a daunting task to whittle down some 16,000 works to a mere 2,000. I was also invited to exhibit, and I decided in advance of my judging stint that it would be an excellent opportunity to use the portrait of a great national icon to raise funds for an appropriate charity.

With little hesitation, the art committee decided that Dame Joan Sutherland, already voted the Citizen of the Century, would be a perfect subject. She was approached and agreed to a series of sittings at her home in Switzerland. For me, it was a very moving experience, as her recordings have long been as much a part of my studio life as my paints and brushes. For years, I collected records of some of her greatest performances.

Dame Joan could not have been a more inspiring sitter, and for much of the time we listened to a fabulous recording of her performance in Massenet’s Esclarmonde. Whether she was recalling past glories, or reflecting on the fact that she no longer sings in public,I felt that her wistful gaze was characteristic of the now-retired great diva’s personality.

When the finished portrait was finally unveiled at the press viewing, Dame Joan kindly allowed herself to be photographed standing next to it. As the cameraman shouted instructions, we were both taken aback when someone asked Dame Joan if she could ‘look a little more like the portrait’. With just a flicker of hesitation, she did her best.

A luncheon followed for the official presentation of the portrait by the Camberwell Rotary Club to the people of Australia. It was received by the Minister for Arts, the Hon. Richard Alston, and now hangs in the Dame Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith.

A limited edition of 350 prints was produced in the UK. Each print was signed by both Dame Joan and myself. The proceeds are divided between Opera Australia, for the support of young singers, and the Camberwell Rotary Club, for the support of emerging artists.

Joan Sutherland
At the Curwen Press, Linton, near Cambridge, signing prints