At this time of year, I head to London to see the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery. I have been going every year since I first discovered this annual exhibition in 2008. I am not an expert on photography but there is always a good range of images, some striking and some disturbing.
I used the visit to do what I always now do in London museums and galleries: I went to see two pieces that I admire. This time I spent time in front of the portrait of Edward VI, by an unknown English artist, painted around about 1547. I first saw it in the 80s when I became interested in the story of his cousin, Lady Jane Grey. The picture of her execution by Delaroche is in the National Gallery, next door. The story of a boy king caught between competing factions is a sad one, especially as he died at such a young age. The story of his cousin is, perhaps, more tragic but Edward is often just a footnote in Tudor history. The attention is most often on Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth. Edward might have been a great monarch but, as he became King at age 9, he was always a pawn in somebody else’s game. Portraits of young people always show such promise. Edward VI only lived until he was 15.
In this portrait, Edward adopts a pose also used by his father, Henry VIII, in various portraits. In May 2013, BBC Radio Four broadcast a play by Abigail Docherty called ‘Edward, Edward’. The play explored Edward’s relationship with Lady Jane Grey and how the two struggled to be children while family members played politics around them.
The National Portrait Gallery is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?