Giles Coren picks 'an oil sketch gone wrong' by his school friend Jonathan Yeo.
Giles Coren on ‘Westminster School’ by Jonathan Yeo
‘All friends since childhood once shared each other’s youthful dreams, but really great friends share your nightmares as well. And I am incredibly lucky to have spent some tricky boarding-school years in the company of a friend with the genius to paint them.
‘This was, I think, an oil sketch gone wrong when Jonny was working on a picture commissioned by the school, which he grabbed in haste for a present on his way to my 25th birthday party, itself more than half our lifetimes ago.
‘Its clattering angles and collapsing lines convey perfectly the landscape of my teenage years, refracted through long memory. And my great comfort is knowing that it looked that way to Jonny, too.’
Giles Coren is a columnist, food writer and television and radio presenter.
Charlotte Mullins comments on æWestminster School’
Jonathan Yeo is one of the country’s leading portrait artists, famous for his stellar list of sitters that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Nicole Kidman, Idris Elba and the late Prince Philip. But he didn’t train in portraiture, or even attend art school. Instead, he taught himself to paint the traditional way — by visiting galleries and spending time looking intently at how others had combated painting’s challenges before him. ‘I was preoccupied with learning to paint,’ he says. ‘I spent every day studying one artist at a time: Stanley Spencer, [Georges] Braque, whoever. I worked out how they did it and, each time, a residue of their style would remain. I didn’t have a style then, I just loved faces.’
This early painting of Westminster School, completed when he was 24, shows Mr Yeo working through the lens of Braque and Cubism, fracturing the buildings into a myriad of facets and planes. It is a view of Little Dean’s Yard, with the arched Georgian school entrance ahead and the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster behind. Mr Yeo attended Westminster with Giles Coren and they became close friends. Although the artist was in the year below, Mr Coren remembers: ‘He had all the absurd confidence and social ease that dazzles people now.’
The son of Conservative MP Tim Yeo, he had to battle his own family and an early brush with cancer to become an artist. His uncanny ability to capture a likeness, from Malala Yousafzai to The Queen, when Duchess of Cornwall, has defined his career.
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