My favourite painting: Prue Leith

'I love this picture for its oddly surreal faces in the knives and empty clothes'

The Awaited Guest, 1980, by Val Archer (b.1946), 60in by 48in, Prue Leith collection

Prue Leith says:

I love this picture for its oddly surreal faces in the knives and empty clothes. I bough it in the early 1980s for far more than I could afford from a Mayfair gallery, became friends with the artist and her husband, Roger Jupe, and now have half a dozen more Val Archers.

Prue Leith is a cook, restaurateur and food writer. Her latest novel, The Food of Love, was published last year and is now in paperback

John McEwen comments on The Awaited Guest:

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Val Archer was born and brought up in Northampton, her father an engineer, her mother a bookbinder. She ‘always’ painted as a child, even at the kitchen table. Formative influences were her grandmother’s books of The World’s Greatest Paintings and, from the age of 10, attendance at Henry Bird’s Saturday- morning drawing class at Northampton School of Art. Bird was a passionate believer in drawing as the cornerstone of art and in the unsurpassed example of the Italian Old Masters.

Miss Archer attended Manchester College of Art and Design and London’s Royal College of Art, where she won the Anstruther Prize for Painting. ‘Paint what you love and work every day’ were lessons gleaned. In the 1970s and 1980s, she combined painting with teaching, but has since become widely known through her illustrative work, notably for The Sunday Telegraph and BBC Good Food, as well as books, most recently The Painter, the Cook and the Art of Cucina with Anna Del Conte.

Since 1999, she has had a house and studio in Tuscany. She finds the winter buzz of London and the summer tranquillity of Italy equally congenial to work, but recommends her husband Roger Jupe’s book Casa Nostra for an alternative view of Italy. Travel remains an inspiration. In 2011, she visited Libya’s Roman antiquities shortly before the fall of Gaddafi.

The human references in this picture were unspecified: ‘I just wanted to convey an atmosphere of tense anticipation. The fruits are lychees.’ She is represented by the Chris Beetles Gallery, London SW1 (, which will have a major solo exhibition of her work from October 4 to 22.


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