Portrait of Sir Mark Ellis Powell Jones

Sir Mark Ellis Powell Jones
, MA (Hon DLitt Lond.; Hon DArts Abertay; Hon LLD Dundee; Hon DLitt UEA) FRSE, FSA; Master St Cross College, 2011-2016. 

Educated at Eton, Oxford (Worcester College) and a postgraduate at the Courtauld Institute, he spent 18 years at the British Museum in the Department of Coins and Medals. From 1992 he was Director of the National Museums of Scotland and was appointed Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2001.

During his Mastership the West and North Wings were built forming a new quad with the existing Pusey buildings and the South Wing. The project moved from architectural competition to near completion in only five years and is his major legacy.

Mark with his portrait at the unveiling, 16 August 2016

The Portrait was painted by Sir Mark’s own choice of artist, the distinguished Royal Academician Humphrey Ocean. A significant part of the cost of the handsome rosewood frame lined with mahogany and cedar and glazed with low reflect museum glass was most generously met by Alasdair Crawford.

The Artist. Humphrey Ocean wrote an illuminating piece about his approach to portraiture in The Guardian.

In the College Record 2016 Sir Mark wrote about the experience of sitting for his portrait:

"Glad and grateful though I was that the College Arts Committee had decided to delegate the choice of artist to me, it was with some trepidation that I set out to find the person whose work could add something distinctive to the College’s distinguished art collections, meeting the high bar set by Kits Van Heyningen’s fine portrait by Sir William Coldstream, while at the same time being evidently twenty-first century in spirit.

My ‘research’ was conducted in the National Portrait galleries, in London and Edinburgh. Both full of lively and striking portraits in a variety of styles and media. Given the precedent set by previous Masters, I felt the College would want a portrait in a traditional format, a painting rather than a collage or a photograph. At the same time, given the Coldstream precedent, it needed to be by a well-known and highly regarded artist, working in a contemporary idiom.

My research on the origins of portraiture in early modern Europe, reminded me that portraits have often been associated with the deadly sin of pride or vanity. In the fifteenth century artists and sitters frequently warded off the imputation of sin by associating the portrait with a reminder of mortality. The portrait of a ‘Man with a pansy and a skull’ in the National Gallery makes this connection explicit: the sitter is thinking (pansy=pensée) of death. And it seemed to me as I contemplated them that all portraits can be seen as simultaneously defiance and reminder of human transience.

As I wandered through the galleries I was struck by the skill many younger portrait painters display in creating super-real images of their sitters, exploring their personality through unsparing analysis of their appearance. Impressive though this can be, it suggests too close an identity between appearance and character for my comfort. So I was relieved to find in Humphrey Ocean an artist, who approaches portraiture quite differently, capturing something distinctive about the impression made on him by the sitter rather than or as well as the contingent facts of their appearance at the moment in question. He and I are about the same age, which means perhaps that we have more in common than we might care to admit. Certainly my sittings in Humphrey’s wonderfully serene and beautifully lit studio in West Norwood were pure pleasure: fascinating and wide ranging conversation, a chance to sit still and empty the mind, and the opportunity to see an artist work with complete concentration and evident mastery of his medium. Humphrey Ocean’s approach to portraiture involves sizing up the character and personality of his subject, making quick (and brilliant) sketches on the spot, taking a few reference photographs and then dismissing the sitter so that he can work on the painting itself, a work which, like all Humphrey’s work which ranges widely in subject matter, is about much more than the appearance of the thing portrayed.

Last came the frame. Humphrey’s studio is in one of a group of new industrial workspaces, only a couple of years old, so I could not have been more astonished to find that his neighbour, the famous framer Robert Mello, inhabits a marvellously Dickensian space, filled with exotic woods, a collection of planes and the remnants of long demolished buildings. There the two of them selected rare and precious rosewood for the frame.

When I saw the result I was delighted. It seems to me that it is a very good painting, which sits comfortably within, while creating a new dimension to, the College’s fine art collection. Also, although this is for others to judge, I feel that it captures something very particular about me, and I am proud to be represented by it."