Thursday, July 17, 2008
I think it's him
To the National Portrait Gallery in London with Helen, arriving at 10 to beat the rush. We needn't have bothered; there's a distinct lack of tourists in town at the moment. A couple of schools arrived mid morning to swell the numbers. Adolescent boys played on the escalator to the Ondaatje wing, which is where my favourite portrait, the 'Chandos' picture of Shakespeare hangs in the gloom with the rest of the Elizabethans.
There's some doubt, I've read, that it's him. But I think it is. The dark eyes regard the viewer with a certain forbearance. You sense the mind at work behind the slightly mocking half smile. And there's the earring; a rakish actor, in full creative and poetic flow, takes a precious afternoon to sit for the painter. I get the feeling it's one afternoon only. It's just head and shoulders, and there's no scenery behind the subject. He was a pretty busy man when all's said and done.