In the frame: portraits, power and personality

24 Apr 2018

Event times

6pm - 8pm

Cost of entry

Tickets: £8, students and concessions £5

Royal College of Physicians Museum

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Tube: Great Portland Street

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Join the Royal College of Physicians for a special event exploring the role of contemporary portraiture and the college's remarkable art collection, with artists Paul Benney and Jessica van der Weert.


Join the Royal College of Physicians for a special event exploring the role of contemporary portraiture and the college's remarkable art collection.

The Royal College of Physicians is one of a very few organisations which continues to commission portraits of its leaders. But how do contemporary portrait artists capture a personality? How do today’s portrait sitters hope to be represented? Do we need to do away with the pomp and ceremony of the past?

What we see depicted in contemporary portraits has evolved dramatically over the centuries. Modern images are less about power and status, frequently in more informal settings, and often in the medium of photography. Today’s sitters and artists seem to favour individuality over prestige.

Compared with the imposing ‘swagger portraits’ of the past, is the twenty-first century simply shy? Or have our values as a society shifted? And how has portraiture changed as issues around representation and diversity have become more widely acknowledged?

Inspired by the RCP’s nationally-significant portrait collection, a panel made up of artists, curators and writers will explore the process by which portraits are commissioned today, the use of symbolism in modern portraits, and the continued fascination of portraiture as a form of representation.

The discussion will also explore the college's astonishing art collection: a visual chronology of the evolution of power, symbolism, even fashion, as gradually the ‘presidential paraphernalia’ that once adorned leaders of the past are dissolved to simple, even abstract, styles.

Among the panel members are artist Paul Benney and photographer and artist Jessica van der Weert.  In 2018, renowned artist, Paul Benney will present his commission of outgoing college president, Professor Jane Dacre. The work will be officially unveiled this autumn; however, this event will feature an exclusive first look at the new portrait. Jessica van der Weert will present her current series of photographic portraits of African physicians, part of the college's fundraising initiative ‘Physicians for Africa’.

The Royal College Physicians Museum will remain open until 8pm as part of the evening, with more than 140 portraits on display throughout the building, including works by Anthony van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence, Elisabeth Frink and Pietro Annigoni. 

Current temporary exhibition ‘Ceaseless motion: William Harvey’s experiments in circulation’, featuring an array of images of the medical and scientific pioneer, will also be available to view.

Art form Toggle

Exhibiting artists

Joshua Reynolds

Pietro Annigoni

Jessica van der Weert

Dame Elisabeth Frink

Paul Benney

Anthony van Dyck


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