My Favourite Painting: Virginia Chadwyck-Healey

Stylist and writer Virginia Chadwyck-Healey chooses an image that she first came across during lockdown.

Virginia Chadwyck-Healey chooses Whispers of My Past by Christabel Blackburn

‘Being frank, my favourite works had already been profiled (Caravaggio, Magritte, Sargent…). I chose this piece because it is one I first “met” during lockdown. I’d just had my third baby; I was missing my friends — and in particular my parents — and I was struck by Whispers when scrolling through Instagram during a night feed.

‘It reminded me of summers with friends, conversations that can inspire laughter, tears or both; of that mid-afternoon heat that only a cool dip can remedy. The artist’s use of colour is uplifting, but there’s a quiet contemplation to her work I find comfort in–especially against the backdrop of my wonderfully chaotic young family.’

Virginia Chadwyck-Healey is a stylist, fashion writer and columnist for The Telegraph

Charlotte Mullins comments on Whispers of My Past 

A man stands chest deep in a turquoise swimming pool, his body refracted by the water. He faces us, but his head is turned away, as if distracted by something we cannot see or hear. Perhaps he senses the couple whispering behind him, conspiratorial as they dip their toes in the water, adding a ripple of tension despite the sunlit location.

London-based Christabel Blackburn, who read Classical Studies at Newcastle University before turning to art, painted Whispers of My Past the year after she won the Sky Arts Portrait of the Year competition. Her spare, flat style allowed her to conjure winning portraits of celebrities within the programme’s challenging four-hour deadline. First prize was to paint Nile Rodgers, co–founder of the band Chic, for the Royal Albert Hall.

Alongside such commissioned portraits, she paints isolated figures in manmade environments. Men and women pass by colourful Modernist façades, heads down on their phones, or contemplate empty canvases in windowless galleries. Small observed details add character — a Waitrose shopping bag in an old hand, a hard hat, a lopsided rucksack. The curve of a shoulder or the tilt of a head shapes each figure’s personality.

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Since studying figure drawing in Florence and portraiture in London a decade ago, the artist has slowly pared back her approach. In Whispers of My Past, the water and surrounding grass float across the surface like patches of abstract colour. Only the geometrical edge of the pool adds depth, giving the man a place to float in uneasy solitude.