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  • Andre Lamartin

National Portrait Gallery

A portrait is a seemingly paradoxical work of art. It captures both the timelessness of the human spirit, in the eyes of the person depicted, as well as the transience of human existence, in portraying a momentary glimpse of a face ultimately destined to be ravaged by death. In search of a better understanding of this art form, I visited the National Portrait Gallery, the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. My original goal was to create a personal exhibition called “The Ephemeral and the Eternal”. However, the unfortunate lassitude of the Spring holiday sabotaged my plans. What follows is simply a small selection of portraits I came across, devoid of any meaningful discussion, recorded here for posterity.

1.William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 : The greatest playwright of all time and one of the greatest poets.

2.Charles Robert Darwin 1809 – 1882 : Naturalist who formulated the Theory of Evolution by natural selection in his book “Origin of Species”.

3. George Washington 1732 – 1799 : Instrumental military leader in the War of Independence, presided over the Philadelphia Convention that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787 and was the first American President from 1789-1797.

4. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill 1874 – 1965 : Statesman and Britain’s greatest leader during World War II.

5.James Joyce 1882 – 1941 : Irish novelist. Author of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939).

6.Paul McCartney 1942 : Musician, singer, songwriter and composer. Second most important member of the Beatles. By the way, the fact that the gallery has two mediocre portraits of McCartney and none of John Lennon is unacceptable.

7.Bernard Montgomery 1887 – 1976 : Commanded the eighth army at El Alamein in North Africa and defeated General Rommel. Is seen here pointing to the coast of Normandy before the D-Day landing.

8.Anthony “Tony” Blair 1953 : British Prime Minister. Led the Labour Party to victory in three consecutive elections. Unfortunately, his inexcusable involvement in the mindless Iraq War irreparably marred his legacy. Led extensive public service reform, negotiated the Good Friday agreement for Northern Ireland, led London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics, but went down in history as Bush’s favorite sycophant.

9.Arthur James Balfour 1848 – 1930 : Influential British politician between 1880’s and the 1920’s. Remembered mostly for the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, the official statement of support that paved the way for the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

10.Diana, Princess of Wales 1961 – 1997 : An icon in this country who still elicits a fascination that I personally have trouble deciphering.

11.Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 : Political Writer. Author of “Common Sense” (1776) and “The Rights of Man” (1791). His promotion of the concept of human rights influenced both the American Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

12.Prince Albert 1819 – 1861 : Married Queen Victoria in 1840. Played an influential role in British public life and was a patron of the arts.

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