My favourite painting: Virginia McKenna

'These lions hangs on a wall in my home, and I could not have wished for a more perfect visual memory.'

George Adamson, with Boy and Christian by Gary Hodges (b.1954), 171⁄4in by 291⁄2in, Collection: Virginia McKenna.

Virginia McKenna says:
‘It was in the 1980s that my husband, Bill, and I first came across the work of Gary Hodges. We bought a wonderful drawing he did of a mother elephant and calf. When George Adamson was killed, 25 years ago this year, I knew that I wanted to have an image of him with two lions that meant the world to him—Boy, with whom we had worked on the film Born Free in 1964, and Christian, who rose to fame through a documentary my husband made called Christian, the Lion at World’s End. Gary’s extraordinary drawing of George and these lions hangs on a wall in my home, and I could not have wished for a more perfect visual memory.’

Virginia McKenna is a Founder Trustee of the Born Free Foundation, conservationist, campaigner, writer and actress. Her collection of poems, Tonight The Moon is Red, was published in September.

John McEwen comments:
When in 1989, Gary hodges first met Virginia McKenna and her late husband, Bill Travers (1922–94), he was already established as a wildlife artist of meticulous pencil drawings, with a popular following for his print reproductions. he was also a campaigner for the rights and protection of animals, especially with regard to their treatment by zoos. The couple had founded Zoo Check (later the Born Free Foundation) and they bought a drawing by Mr hodges. Thus began an enduring friendship.

In 1964, they starred as Joy and George Adamson in the film version of the former’s bestseller Born Free, her account of their life with elsa, a Kenyan lioness reared by them and then released back into the wild. Following their meeting with the Adamsons, Miss McKenna and Travers dedicated themselves to wildlife causes. After George’s murder by poachers in 1989, Miss McKenna commissioned this drawing for the memorial service. As a limited-edition print, it transformed the secondary market for Mr hodges’s work.

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Older readers may have seen Christian, who was bought as a cub from harrods in 1969 and lived in the basement of Sophisticat, the antique pine-furniture shop, on the King’s Road. A chance meeting at Sophisticat between his young Australian masters, who worked in the shop, and Miss McKenna and her husband led to the cub’s transfer to Adamson in Kenya. There, he met Boy, who had starred in Born Free.

Christian was eventually returned to the wild. Film documentaries of him entitled Christian the Lion, co-produced by Travers, are available from the Born Free Foundation.

This article was originally published in Country Life, December 10, 2014

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