On the 13th October 2014 my portrait of Baroness Betty Boothroyd, was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned by the Trustees of National Portrait Gallery, it is the first painted portrait of Baroness Boothroyd to enter the Collection.
Baroness Boothroyd is the only woman to have held the prominent position of Speaker in the House of Commons, a role she undertook between 1992 and 2000. Born in Yorkshire, Boothroyd worked briefly as a dancer with the Tiller Girls troupe, before turning to politics in the 1950s, working as a political assistant for Labour politicians in London. She was a volunteer for the Kennedy presidential campaign in Washington in the 1960s, and worked as a secretary in Congress. Boothroyd served as MP for West Bromwich West from 1974 to 2000, and MEP between 1975 and 77. She became Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons in 1987 and Speaker in 1992. Between 1994 and 2007 she was Chancellor of the Open University, and is patron of a number of charitable trusts.
Following her retirement in 2000, Boothroyd was made a Life Peer in 2001 and, in 2005 ,she was appointed to the Order of Merit, the personal honour of Her Majesty the Queen. Boothroyd was also patron of the fundraising trust for the Monument to the Women of World War II, which is located in the centre of Whitehall and was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II and dedicated by Boothroyd in July 2005.
Director of the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne and Baroness Boothroyd unveiling her portrait
I wanted to paint a straightforward portrait of the Baroness free from fussiness or any complex backdrops.It was to be just her.
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, said:
‘Baroness Boothroyd is a great force in the political sphere and Brendan Kelly’s portrait captures her forthright character mixed with kindness and public spirit.’
I met the Baroness a number of times over the process of painting the portrait and my approach to the picture changed a bit each time I got to know her a bit better.Initially I had envisioned a very strong somewhat defiant portrait with a direct and powerful pose.As I got to know her I could see this was not really enough, it may have made an exiting portrait but it wasn't the whole story.
She has also a great sense of charm and femininity about her, I needed to also try to capture this as well a a sense of strength and power.
My job of painting her became more complex as to communicate strength I envisioned powerful and explosive marks with the brush, but the communication of charm and femininity required me to have a gentler softer approach.This meant I was trying to combine two opposite ways of painting into one portrait.
I experimented with all sorts of different ways to put the paint on in order to achieve the combination of approaches.Often redoing large sections of the painting.
Until I realised that I could paint it in such a way that close up the picture is painted with strong, almost violent brush marks but from a distance the picture becomes softer and more atmospheric.
In reference to her time as Speaker, Baroness Boothroyd is wearing a gold brooch depicting a portcullis pinned to the front - a personal item which she designed herself to commemorate her time in the House of Commons.
My hope is that the portrait conveys the renowned charisma and defiant attitude of one of the most important women in parliament in recent decades.
Baroness Boothroyd by Brendan Kelly is in Room 36 in the Ground Floor Lerner Contemporary Galleries at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from Monday 13 October 2014, Admission Free.