Sir Arthur Bliss

Red chalk drawing, 14 x 10 inches, 1970

I met Sir Arthur Bliss after Sir Gerald Kelly wrote a letter of introduction for me. I was never too certain how the two men actually knew each other, but my guess was that Sir Arthur, as Master of the Queen’s Musick, would almost certainly have been invited to the Royal Academy Dinner. I was anxious to have a sitting with Sir Arthur, as I was quite taken with his features. After my introduction, I was invited to Sir Arthur’s home in St John’s Wood, with the challenge that he would give me a forty-minute sitting. If he approved of my sketch, I would be offered a commission.

Fortunately, everything worked out for the best and I was able to impress Sir Arthur with my work. A commission for a portrait soon followed. Sir Arthur and Lady Bliss were generous in their invitations for me to visit their home, and on one very memorable day, returning to London from Suffolk, they paid a visit to my studio. Sir Arthur patiently sat for me over many hours, and I was able to complete many studies during our time together. Two of the studies found prestigious homes: one now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, and the other, illustrated here, was acquired by Pembroke College, Cambridge, where Sir Arthur was an Honorary Fellow.

It was in fact the work I had completed on Sir Arthur’s portrait that Sir Gerald Kelly saw at our final meeting. He told me (and I was only eighteen at the time) that he felt it was not necessary for me to visit again, and he died peacefully only two weeks later. Sir Gerald’s final words of advice were that I should summon up all my confidence, not be too dispirited at not having gained a place at art school, and start knocking on doors to stimulate interest in my work – an endeavour that took me, eventually, to Clarence House, the London home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.