Podcaster and former politician Rory Stewart had a nasty case of expectations meeting reality this week when a new portrait of him was unveiled.
As part of the Portrait Artist of the Year competition, Stewart sat for a few painters. One, Lorena Levi, produced an impressionistic rendering of the former Tory MP in an ill-fitting jacket.
But Stewart, who sees himself as a great man of history, was unimpressed. On his podcast with Alastair Campbell, The Rest Is Politics, he described the painting as “slightly grotesque, slightly combative” and said Levi “produced a caricature of me”.
We asked Levi what she thought of Stewart’s review. “Grotesque is such a big word to use,” she said. “Maybe he was hoping for something a bit more heroic?” Stewart, who walked across Afghanistan and served as a deputy governor in Iraq before entering parliament, once ambitiously compared himself to Alexander the Great and dreamed of becoming prime minister. “My objective isn’t to make a royal court painting of someone,” Levi quipped, “I don’t really care for that.”
Stewart ended up taking a different portrait home with him from the competition, one painted by an artist who has read his books and is a self-confessed fan. “That painting showed him in a pretty heroic light. It made him look really powerful,” Levi said. “I’m more interested in trying to figure out the inner world or the psychology of my sitter.”
The painting Stewart chose is, he admitted to Campbell on the podcast, “very impressive but a bit embarrassing.” It is, after all, a six-foot canvas painting of his head. No room for nuance there.
Either way, Levi is through to the semi-finals.