Brirish portraitist Fanny Rush tells Rrishi Raote she’s here to paint more Indian clients.
Portraits get two kinds of viewers — those who know the person portrayed, and those who do not. We all know the famous ones, like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The Indian rich and famous through history tended to build for glory rather than be painted.
Europe is the home of the modern painted portrait but it doesn't have many practitioners left. In the UK, the most famous is Lucian Freud. Freud has subjects, not patrons, and he works them hard. Hundreds of hours of posing is expected. And his portraits are not flattering: in 2001 he made Queen Elizabeth look “like one of the royal corgis who has suffered a stroke,” according to one report.
On the more courtly end of the scale is Fanny Rush. She describes herself, over the phone from the Taj Mahal in Mumbai, as "very well-known, one of the best-known" portrait painters in the UK. She has painted a number of UK "high achievers" and the occasional aristocrat, and their families. Her most famous portrait, hanging at Lord’s since 2005, is of Shane Warne the Australian spin bowler.
Rush, who is in her early 50s, comes from a family of painters and sculptors. She has worked as an art director in TV advertising in Brazil, and in fashion photography in London — because, she says, “I wanted to rebel a bit.” Now, “I am undoubtedly a born painter, so eventually it came and got me.”
Why portraits? “I just kept on being asked,” she says. “I was a little shy and it was so much responsibility to paint somebody’s face and personality.” It is also “an infinite subject, there’s no time when you’ve done enough.” Portraiture fits her other talents, too: “I think my bigger gift, rather than being an artist, is being able to understand human beings instinctively, and my deep love of humanity — that's very honed in me and the painting is a follow-on.” She paints in London, in a north-facing studio in a restored gasworks. The even light is flattering to her clients, though her standard procedure is to visit them on their home ground. In her portraits the backgrounds recede and the focus is on the subject. Apart from a couple of meetings, she works from photographs and sketches, paying attention to the images the client likes best. These are not, she explains, public portraits — usually they hang in the family room and are viewed by people who know the subject.
India is plainly a growth area, and word of mouth, she says, is bringing her new clients among the very rich. You have to be rich; her charges were reported at £17,000 for a full portrait half a decade ago. It’s much more now, no doubt helped upward by Indians.