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Sitters’ reflections

An array of portraits of Trinity Fellows is on display in the Wren Library. Professors Catherine Barnard, Valerie Gibson and Marian Hobson reflect on the experience of having their portraits drawn.  

How did you choose the artist to portray you?

Professor Catherine Barnard, Senior Tutor at Trinity (CB): Trinity’s Keeper of the Pictures, Paul Simm, suggested Peter Mennim. He had already drawn [Vice Master, Professor] Grae Worster. He lives locally and works fast. He is also a warm, thoughtful artist. Looking at his other work, I think he is good at drawing real women. When I spoke at a Brexit event at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall in York I saw the large work Peter had created there and the women stand out for being impressive, real individuals.

Professor Catherine Barnard by Peter Mennim
Professor Catherine Barnard by Peter Mennim

Professor Valerie Gibson, Head of the High Energy Physics Research Group at the Cavendish Laboratory (VG):  I am a fan of Aardman animations, Nick Park and Wallace and Gromit. The artist I chose, Vincent Brown, is famous for his painting ‘Supper at Aardman’, and I could not resist the opportunity to sit for him.

Professor Marian Hobson, Fellow of Trinity, 1977-1992, (MH): I know Simon Edmondson, have visited his studio in Madrid, and own three pieces by him. The first I chose out of the blue: visiting Flowers Gallery East, in London’s Kingsland Road, I saw it propped up against a wall after a different show, and liked it. Edmondson was very soon, in a way quite unconnected, the subject of an exhibition in Switzerland at the gallery of a good friend of ours.


Can you describe the process of sitting for your portrait?

CB: Peter works through photography, taking lots of pictures of the individual, talking to them and getting to know them a bit. He then works from the best pictures.

VG: Vincent spent a few hours with me in the Wren Library. He took a multitude of photos of me and the artefacts of Sir Isaac Newton. I then spent three hours staring at the black and white tiles of the Wren floor while he sketched. By the end of the sitting, I was quite dizzy!

MH: Simon came to my home, did a drawing for about three hours, and disliked it very much (he is not professionally a portrait painter). He then did, much faster, the one that Trinity has, which is to my mind altogether much better, as a piece of art and as a likeness.


What was your reaction on seeing the final drawing?

Professor Valerie Gibson by Vincent Brown
Professor Valerie Gibson by Vincent Brown

CB: Shock, I think, on seeing myself in a medium I’ve not been in before. But I also felt a quiet admiration for the artist’s skill in capturing something about me.

VG: The drawing initially consisted of my head and shoulders in a contemplative pose looking downwards. I was pleased, but slightly unhappy that my nose looked too big (in my opinion!) I still have the original drawing at home. Vincent then   sent a final version, including much detail of the Wren Library, which I am extremely pleased with. I didn’t initially see the quirk that he had included over my left shoulder. It is Newton’s face (taken from his death mask). The reason why…well, I guess I am the only other Fellow, apart from Newton, who came from Grantham and specialises in physics. Newton is a daily part of  my life!

MH: I was very pleased.


 Why is it important to have portraits (in any media) of Trinity Fellows around the College?

CB: It is important to have images of those who have contributed to the life blood and success of the institution. However, there is a lamentable lack of portraits of women, as the students commented to me at the Matriculation dinner recently. But this is now being rectified as women have started to reach their 20th year at the College when each Fellow can have her/his portrait drawn.

VG: Every portrait I look at, I wonder who the person is and what they have done. I hope that people who see my portrait, especially the younger generation, may be inspired to think more about science and learn more about the research that I and other Fellows undertake. If not, maybe they will watch some more Aardman animations!

Professor Marian Hobson by Simon Edmondson
Professor Marian Hobson by Simon Edmondson

MH: The problem is that women’s contribution to the College has only recently been recognized visibly, for example with the exhibition of the great portrait of Elizabeth I. Yet it can be argued that three great benefactions were owed to the influence of women – the most recent being the gift of the estate that became the Felixstowe hard standing area.

It would be nice for students to develop some sense of the continuity through time of the College. Not just intellectual continuity, either. I remember early one morning going to the Head Porter for help in dealing with some event which at the time seemed really awful, and he said to me: ‘Now I think something a bit like that happened in 194… and what we did then was….’ Hopefully some time soon the same kind of lore will include women, as staff, students and Fellows.


The exhibition of Fellows’ portraits continues until 14 November 2016. It is free and open to the public during visiting hours at the Wren Library.

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