Kevin Spacey reimagined as Richard III by Jonathan Yeo at National Portrait Gallery

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 May 2013

Wearing a rakishly tilted crown and an intent peer, an oil portrait of Kevin Spacey which reimagines the actor as Richard III, made during his spell as artistic director of London's famous Old Vic Theatre, will appear alongside paintings of Rupert Murdoch, Erin O’Connor, Grayson Perry and Sienna Miller at the National Portrait Gallery.

A painting of a man dressed as a King
Kevin Spacey by Jonathan Yeo (2013)© Jonathan Yeo
Artist Jonathan Yeo’s works, which will open at the gallery this September, include the large canvas of Spacey, created during his role as the King in the 2011 production overseen by revered director Sam Mendes.

It is thought to be the first ever portrait of Spacey, perfected by Yeo while sketching and photographing him backstage.

“When Kevin came to London to take over the Old Vic, critics were lining-up to predict that he'd only last a few months before jumping straight on a plane back to Hollywood,” reflects a satisfied Yeo.

“The fact he has stuck at it for 10 years, revitalising the international reputation of British theatre, made him an obvious choice for inclusion in my first display at the National Portrait Gallery.

‘We decided to put him in character as Shakespeare's notorious villain, partly as a nod to the tradition of theatrical portraits of the past and partly as a celebration of what may go down as his most memorable stage role.

“The main dilemma with painting a great actor in a role is knowing how much you are portraying the man and how much of the character he is playing.

“In the end, I tried to leave it to the viewer to decide for themselves.”

In the year when the Plantagenet ruler’s body was identified art418677, Yeo is pleased with the timing of his theatrical twist on proceedings.

“It’s been Richard III’s year, from being unearthed in a Leicester Council car park to being on display at the National Portrait Gallery,” he says.

“It’s not a bad showing for someone who's been dead for six centuries.”

  • Jonathan Yeo Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from September 11 2013 – January 5 2014.
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