Daphnr Todd OBE - Painter




DT Times
Daphne Todd has painted the upper echelons of nobility
Photograph: Peter Tarry/The Times

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by David Sanderson
Last updated at 12:01AM, March 5 2015

In drawing rooms and galleries, the hunt is on. The cherished portraits of the gentlemen of the houses are being scrutinised. The x-ray machines are being ordered. Just where are those devil horns?

One of the country's leading portraitists has confessed that underneath the hair of one of her subjects lies a devilish surprise that when revealed will make clear her dislike of the man.

Daphne Todd, who has painted the upper echelons of nobility, academia and the arts world, said she had decided to wreak her revenge on an "obnoxious young gentleman" whose portrait she had been commissioned to paint.

"I painted a pair of horns," she said yesterday. "I painted hair on top but in future years these horns will bleed through." The sitter's crime?

"He was rude really," she said. "I had a four-hour round trip over the Christmas period in the early hours of darkness to get there for first light. And then they can't be bothered to get out of bed."

So who is it she has secretly cast as the devil? "Oh, I would not do the dirty on them," she chuckled to the request from The Times. "That's not right."
She did say, however, that one day it would become apparent. "It may be 50 years or 100 years, who knows. But they are there if you x-ray it."

Todd, the first female president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and a winner of one of the most prestigious art prizes in the world, the BP Portrait Award, did provide some clues.

It happened at a time when she could not afford to walk away from a commission. She used the phrase "young gentleman". It's somebody who, at least at the time of the sitting, had hair.

Jenny Pery, Todd's biographer, said that she could recall a conversation with the artist when she spoke of an unknown sitter who had been difficult. According to Pery, the sitter was part of a double portrait so, for example, it could be a husband and wife. "She was travelling a lot for the portrait," she said of Todd's journeys to paint the "devil".

"They can jolly well turn up on time. It is just extremely bad manners. A lot of people treat portrait painters as tradesmen but quite often they are serious artists of extraordinary national importance."

Todd made the confession to Radio 4's Today programme during a discussion about the American artist Nelson Shanks, who admitted this week that his portrait of President Clinton contains the shadow of Monica Lewinsky's dress.

There is a rich history of hidden messages in art. Take a magnifying glass to Jan van Eyck'sThe Arnolfini Portrait and one can see a tiny figure, presumed to be the artist, waving back at you.

Hans Holbein the Younger continues to provoke discussion with his placing of a memento mori at the feet of The Ambassadors. Seen from high on the right side of the picture or low on the left side, the image is clearly a skull, painted in an anamorphic perspective.

It is not only fine art that conceals secrets. Alexander McQueen, when he was a Savile Row apprentice, wrote "I am a c***" in the lining of a jacket being made for Prince Charles.

Better that than the devil you do not know about, some may say.

Todd was unrepentant, however. "I think people should treat their portrait painter properly," she said. "We have got little powers that we can deploy."