An indulgence?

An indulgence or a perfect ending to a new beginning!

Victoria Lehmann writes about the experience of having this portrait painted by Jane. Many thanks to Victoria for sharing this, to reassure other sitters that the process can be as pleasing as the resulting portrait!

I’m not sure when I thought about having my portrait painted.  When I reached 60, my husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, retiring as a therapist, or after researching my husband’s family tree to help him reconnect with memories from the past and create memories for the future.  

Or maybe it was pure vanity and indulgence.  On reflection it was probably all of the above.

My idea was to visit as many Artists’ open houses as possible in Brighton and Hove.  If I saw a portrait picture that I liked I would talk to the artist.  As I walked into Jane Palmer’s open house, there on the wall in the main room I saw a portrait of a lady that enthralled me. Her eyes had a depth of sadness which I recognised. The portrait was not just a painting of another human being but it also told an intimate story which created depth and substance to the picture.  Now all I had to do was to have the courage to ask Jane if she would paint me!

 A few months later, emails exchanged, we met up to talk about the portrait. Jane wanted us to get to know one another a little before the sitting!  I didn’t have any pre conceived ideas about the size and format of the portrait but Jane kindly explained my options.  I wondered why I felt embarrassed asking questions such as how much make -up shall I wear, what colour shirt would be best, hair up or down, shall I wear jewellery? Jane was understanding, reassuring and very kind. It was as if she said just come as you are, be yourself and don’t panic!

It intrigued me who I told and who I made a deliberate choice not to tell about my portrait.   Was I concerned that they would think I was vain, and why did that matter to me anyway?   What if it didn’t look like me at all?   I made excuses to myself, saying how bad I looked in photographs and how I wanted the children to have a portrait of me when I died. In reality I think I have always been fascinated by portraits and I don’t want to be forgotten.  Somewhere in my thoughts there is an idea that a portrait would keep me alive and remembered!  I didn’t want anyone to influence the process I was about to undergo or to comment on the outcome, this was my journey, and my time.

I have always felt that I had two separate identities. When I was working I became free from my childhood traumas and intense grief.   I was confident, bright, relaxed and proud.  I could stand up and speak at meetings with hundreds present, and offer therapeutic support and guidance with my head held high.

This portrait commission highlighted I was not there to perform, to be paid, to offer support. For the first time this was just me, anxious, shy and fully aware that my role had changed. Now I am a carer, wife, mother and living with the unpredictability of the future, never knowing when my husband will one day not remember who I am. 

I tentatively rang the doorbell, Jane welcomed me and the journey had begun. It wasn’t difficult at all to sit still and no I didn’t fidget too much! We stopped after a few hours for a break.  Steve, Jane’s partner made us coffee and welcomed me into their home.  I felt very privileged to share this time with them.

Jane and I talked and laughed and shared so much of our life experiences together.  It was a joy to be heard and to have conversation, something I lack at home with my husband.  I learnt about art, music, literature and subjects which I had not explored before. As I was painted I created stories of the portraits on the wall of individuals that I had never met before.

Jane told me that she wouldn’t show me my painting until it was finished.  On occasions when she left the room I wondered what would happen if I had a quick glance, whether it would change my attitude to her and if I would sit differently, or return for a further sitting!

I found that there was a level of intimacy created by someone looking at my face without any other agenda but to paint my portrait. I was fascinated about what we spoke about, and what we didn’t speak about, and by the occasional silences.   When Jane said she had finished and I could look I remember being wary of what I would see, I don’t think I was ready for the ending…  But when I looked I was overwhelmed and a little tearful. 

In fact the four separate sessions have been one of the most special and rewarding experiences of my life. It has been a time for reflection of who I am, and how others see me.  As I look at my finished portrait more and more I see the person I have become and I feel proud again. 

As a carer everyone always says “what are you doing to look after yourself?”  So yes this was for me, my time, my journey, my indulgence and a new beginning.

My hope is that when my husband is not sure who I am, we can look at my portrait together, and he will see the beauty of the colours on the canvas which will remind him just how much he is loved and treasured.