The Matriarch


  • Size (h w d): 101.5 x 81 cm
  • Medium: Oil on linen


Framed in a hand-finished high quality black frame with antique golden edge.


! Large and heavy piece (weight mainly because of the frame) so please enquire about collection/delivery before purchasing.

UK: A courier delivery via Aardvark Art Couriers can be arranged.
Outside UK: the painting can be rolled up and shipped in a postal tube. Please re-stretch and frame as soon as possible after delivery.

How to Paint a Portrait of Bess

For my exhibition at the Harley Gallery in November I am drawing inspiration from the Portland Collection and its 16th and 17th century portraits. There are many, many portraits in the collection, including some wonderful ones of Arbella Stuart and Bess herself.

As the mother of the dynasty and all-round fabulous woman who fought for her rights and that of her family, who would not stay quiet in the face of a patriarchal world, I wanted to paint her.

​But how could I? I have found three contemporary portraits of her. One portrait is of her as a young girl, painted in the middle of the 16th century. Two later portraits show her as a middle aged widow, grand and rich. But the stylised imagery of Tudor England would not provide us with a portrait of how she really looked. In the 21st century we are so used to recognizing people by their faces but in Tudor portraits many of the recognizable features would have been found in their clothes, jewellery and family coat of arms. ‘You are what you wear’ rings so true in those early days. So I decided to paint Bess by her clothes.

Black Velvet and Pearls

Four metres of black velvet and strings of pearls should give me all I need.  I spent a day draping the heavy velvet on a mannequin until I found the right look; nothing authentic in cut but vaguely Tudor in feel. I imagined her face, having seen her portraits at Hardwick, as friendly but firm but decided not to develop the face into high realism. I did not use a model as I wanted to avoid the ‘dressing up’ effect and focus on the power of the black velvet being able to tell the story on its own. She is the matriarch. The friendly but firm Mother of all.

In the latest stages I decided to give her an extra strand of pearls and I have worked her face and hand a little more. The highlights on the black velvet are worked with silver paint which gives a special shine. You’ll have to go and see the real thing in order to appreciate that bit! The painting is 40×32” / 101.5x81cm and oil on linen.