An impressive collection of portraits of artists, writers, and musicians, with a few characterful unknowns thrown in. The most striking pieces are the big (4 x 4 feet) oils but the smaller oils and the crayon on paper pieces work well also. The two Michael Longleys caught my eye particularly.
For those brought up on the waxwork blandness of many RHA portraits what strikes one first is how expressive and full of life the works are. Davidson's masterly use of impasto brings a substantial sculptural feel to the work. Put them alongside the romanticised flat graphical work of Edward Maguire (who also painted writers) and see the difference. Look at the state of Maguire's portrait of Seamus Heaney below.
There isn't a single smile in this show. Life is obviously a serious business for these creative types. Each portrait seems to encapsulate the tragedy of the human condition - with Brian Friel and Basil Blackshaw looking particularly pissed off about things. Even that amiable woman from the film Once, Marketa Irglova, looks unhappy (see above), and her with a show about to open on Broadway. But I'm ok with all this heroic grimness - this is after all a vale of tears. The large works are so over powering that I wonder who would buy them aside from institutions. They would certainly loom broodingly over a domestic setting. It would be nice to see our museums acquiring some of them.