In the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Nicholas repeats his reminiscence as relevant today as it was then
In the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Nicholas remembers his early training with Pietro Annigoni, the artist who painted arguably the most famous portrait of the queen.
” I remember when I first met Annigoni at his studio in the early 60’s. I had found his number in the local phone book and had asked if I could show him some of my drawings. He lived in a fairly ‘colourful’ quarter of Florence – Borgo degli Albizi. It was a rainy day in March and I stood on the pavement outside his studio soaked to the skin, portfolio under my arm. I rang the doorbell. His factotum answered on the intercom and summoned me up – an affable old man called Annibale (Hannibal). Up cold stone stairs smelling of herbs and turpentine, then into a large warm studio. At last, my chance to meet the Maestro! My dishevelled state didn’t seem to move him a great deal, but he looked at my drawings and he could see my enthusiasm. Yes, I could study in his studio but I would have to follow his strict ideas on the importance of drawing. I was also to attend Life Drawing at the Scuola del Nudo of the Florence Academy, and study anatomy. All exactly what I had wanted!
Annigoni was a generous man: he was also completely single-minded in his work and ideas. If he said you needed a month’s work on one drawing then that’s what you did. At times it was very hard, but the deep knowledge and experience gained has lasted to this day. The importance of rapid drawing from the model and the constant use of a sketchbook was also instilled in us.
I did not work in the large warm studio, but up a flight of stairs in a draughty attic ‘cast’ studio with a little tin stove for warmth. There were two of us, and on cold winter mornings we would rummage around for odd bits of paper to start the fire. One day I found a large rather scruffy roll of paper in a corner – just right for the fire! I had second thoughts, however, when I unrolled it and saw the full- length preparatory drawing (cartoon) for the Queen’s famous 1955 portrait! A few days later I was asked by an indignant studio assistant not to burn any more of the Maestro’s drawings….
I drew, I painted, I learned at first hand about the preparation and use of traditional materials. Above all I watched Annigoni at work – portraits, landscapes, large-scale religious compositions, sculpture and lithographs. He combined a zest for life with a totally uncompromising dedication to his art – an attitude that has had a lasting influence on his students even though we have all developed different approaches to painting.
I later left Italy to work in Spain. On my return to England Annigoni sent me a telegram of best wishes for the opening of my first London one-man exhibition in 1968. I last saw the Maestro in his London studio in 1970 when he had just completed his second portrait of the Queen, now in the National Portrait Gallery.
I last wrote to him not long before he died in 1988. As a reply he sent me a book of his latest work”
In 2011 Nicholas returned to Florence with Chantale after 47 years’ absence and met with Rossella Annigoni, the Maestro’s widow, and visited the special exhibitions and museum dedicated to him as well as his resting place, a very moving experience> He also met up again with Nando then in his eighties who was also with Annigoni when Nicholas was there.
below is a very good Wikipedia link to an almost complete history of this wonderful painter who has now a permanent collection of his work in Florence click his name to view, this is not to be missed