Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul has joined a select band of living figures whose portraits hang in London’s prestigious National Portrait Gallery.
Normally, the gallery does not commission pictures of contemporary people but in a rare departure it has unveiled a portrait of Sir Vidia in recognition of his literary contribution to Britain, which has been his home since the 1950s when he came to Oxford from Trinidad as a student.
“We make very few commissions of portraits of contemporary people and it is essential that they have made a significant contribution to our country. Sir Vidia changed the way we see the world through his writing,” director of the gallery Sandy Nairne said.
For once, even the famously grumpy Sir Vidia was jubilant.
“I love it… I have always needed time to think and this captures that very nicely. I am very honoured to have been singled out to be painted for the gallery,” he said.
Reflecting on what he described as a “long and at times very difficult journey” to succeed as a non-white writer in Britain, he said: “But it is the only journey I felt I could make and I am glad to keep on looking and learning and writing.”
The painting by well-known Scottish artist Paul Emsley shows 77-year-old Sir Vidia in his Wiltshire home garden, his eyes half-closed as if in contemplation.
A spokesperson of the gallery said Sir Vidia wished to be “depicted in his garden.”
Mr. Emsley, who won the BP Portrait Award in 2007, photographed him sitting on his folding stool.
“This is a beautiful and mysterious portrait of a great writer… I am very pleased that V.S. Naipaul enters the collection as a new portrait,” Mr. Nairne said.
Jayde Card, Acting Director, United Kingdom Arts & Culture, described it as a “hauntingly beautiful portrait.”
The portrait hangs along those of Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and actor Dame Helen Mirren.