A collection of portraits of eminent lawyers who were admitted to a specific Inn could be   viewed as artistically prescriptive. So much depends on the (lasting) reputation, not only of the sitter but of the artist. It is fortunate that on the walls of Inner Temple, particularly in the Smoking Room, are housed some fine portraits of particular interest from the 17th and 20th centuries.

Clement Attlee: fragility

One immediately notes the portrait of Clement Attlee (1883–1967), painted in 1962 by Sir Lawrence Gowing (1918–91) (see right). Attlee was made an honorary Bencher of Inner Temple in 1946, while he was Prime Minister. He was living in a flat in King’s Bench Walk when this was painted. The portrait presents an aspect of the man different from the official black and white bromide prints which were circulated for decades and which identify him through his moustache, bald head and pipe. Instead, Gowing captures a fraility underlining a military straightness of back and intensity of stare. Discrete paint strokes build up the paint surface and this thick texture gives a depth to the image.

Gowing was a student of the Euston School which supported painting traditional subjects in a realistic and accessible manner with an underlying politicised subtext. Another member of the School was William Coldstream (1908–87), whose portrait of Lord Hylton (1932– ) is also in the room.

The Smoking Room also has a strong collection of portraits painted in the last 20 years. Several have been painted by Presidents of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. All the artists have a background in painting royal sitters, and leading representatives of the arts, politics, judiciary, finance, sport. Each relies on elements of photorealism. Many, according to their biographies, trained initially as graphic artists—some drew record sleeves—and they retained that clear line and stark colour which initially grabs the viewer’s attention.

Lord Woolf: intensely realistic

Lord Woolf (1933– ) was painted in 2006 by Andrew Tift (1968– ) who won the BP Portrait Award in the same year. As a figurative realist artist, Tift portrays Lord Woolf in an intensely realistic style (see far right). The paint surface is smooth and flat but texture is brought out by the detailed patterning on the vases in the wall cupboard, by the intricacy of the carving on the sides of the chair, by the tiling on the fireplace and by the layered brushwork of the painting.

Tift has been very open about his working practices, explaining that an initial meeting between artist and sitter could take about half a day during which the specific pose, expression, clothes, background, environment, narrative props, composition and lighting would all be discussed. In this instance, Lord Woolf wanted to present an informal and relaxed image which is why it is set in his home rather than in the law courts or the Inn. After taking photographs, Tift then develops an initial composition and usually requires about five sittings (as in this case) before completing the portrait in his studio. At each sitting which can last about five hours each Tift makes sketches and notes, supplemented by photographs.

20th century techniques

Artists David Poole (1931– ) Keith Breedon (1956– ) and Theo Platt (1960– ) contribute, in the portraits of Lord Bridge (1917–2007), Lord Rawlinson (1919–2006) and Lord Havers (1923–92) in the Smoking Room, to the sense of development of 20th century portraiture both in the realism of the technique and in their contextualisation. The last two decades of the 20th century are perfectly conveyed in the close frontal gaze, grey suits, types of glasses and ties, background of flatly painted books and the type of frame, which is always an indication of period. The portrait of Lord Taylor (1930–97) by Andrew Festing (1941– ) is luxuriant in ermine and decoration with a high level of realism in the tactile quality of the dress. In the Ante Room a further contemporary artist, James Lloyd, who won the BP Portrait Award in 1997, painted Lord Irvine (1940– ) surrounded by Pugin-designed wallpaper, a happy combination of the sitter’s motif and artistic style.

Women in Inner Temple

David Cobley’s (1954– ) portrait of Princess Anne of 2002, also in the Ante Room casts the sitter between interior and exterior spaces, in quasi-formal attire. Placed against a half-open external door, the prospect of which takes up half the canvas, Princess Anne is shown poised between two spaces. Vertical lines on interior wooden panelling and wooden door frame contrast with the crisp blue striped linen shirt worn by the sitter. The lack of formality is emphasised by the prominence of her wedding ring, almost central in the canvas, glinting as she folds her arms. Here is a royal sitter who is shown as having found a role in society with which she is comfortable.

Princess Anne is one of relatively few women portrayed in the collection. Others include two of the first four women High Court judges. Richard Foster’s (1945– ) portrait of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (1933– ) commissioned in 2000 and John Whittall’s (1947– ) Dame Elizabeth Lane (1905–88) painted in 1982. Both adopt the masculine iconography of their profession, anonymous in court gown (Lane is shown with her wig) surrounded by books. Taken in isolation, these portraits would require written textual explanation but located within this collection their significance is conveyed visually: composition, type of dress and motif are all consistent with the manner of representation for legal sitters. To have set them apart from their masculine counterparts would have worked against the viewer’s expectation and the coherence of the collection.

Restoration artists

In the same way that a contemporary artist raises questions of technique and handling by the overlap between photography and fine art in portraiture, so do the 17th century Restoration artists (in which this collection is rich) open up major areas for research in terms of attribution and working practice. This Inner Temple collection is strong in terms of works by or connected with John Michael Wright (1617–94), Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723), and Jonathan Richardson (1667–1745). There is a single image by Sir Peter Lely (1618–80).

The sheer number of portraits produced by these artists has inevitably focused attention on how much they actually painted themselves and the extent to which they delegated to assistants. The portrait of John Maitland 1st Duke of Lauderdale (1616–82), for example, is catalogued as by a follower of Lely. Lely was himself well known for producing a portrait by making a quick likeness in chalk followed by a rough compositional drawing, and then passing the painting to his studio. Indeed Lely numbered his designs so patrons could choose various different poses just by pointing to a particular pattern number. This did have a disadvantage as John Dryden, the influential 17th century English poet and literary critic, pointed out, “It was objected…that he drew many graceful pictures but few of them were like.”

Many of the portraits in the Inner Temple collection are classified as by a follower, studio, or circle of John Michael Wright. He has been overshadowed by Lely’s languorous heavy eyed portraits of Court beauties with their rich sensuous colouring. But Wright, born in Scotland, is recognised as a Court artist prominent in the reign of Charles II who evoked a vigorous sense of realism and elegance. Sensitive characterisation was allied with an ability to convey the grandeur of the Catholic Stuart Court. He, like Lely, was prolific, attaining a huge production rate in the 1660s/70s, much of which was finished off by a large studio of assistants, raising the question of how much was carried out by his own hand.

The fire judges

Of particular interest in the Inner Temple collection are the portraits of the “Fire Judges” who were so called because they were appointed to assess property claims and boundary disputes in the wake of the Great Fire of London. The Aldermen of the City of London decided to commission 22 full-length portraits of these men for public display in the Guildhall. After a competition among artists Wright was selected and proceeded to paint the full series between 1671 and 1675, at £36 each.

John Evelyn wrote about them in his diary in 1673: “I went home, turning in as I went through Cheapeside to see the pictures of all the Judges and Eminent Men of the Long Robe newly painted by Mr Write and set up in Guildhall costing the Citte 1000 pounds: most of them are very like the Persons they are made to represent, though I never took Write to be any considerable artist.”

Four which now hang in the Hall were presented to Inner Temple by the Guildhall in 1951: Sir Orlando Bridgeman (1609–74), Sir Thomas Tyrell (1594–1672) Heneage Finch (1621–82) and Sir John Vaughan (1603–74). Although they are generally considered to have been damaged by previous restorations and inadequate storage particularly in the 18th century, they do represent a slice of London’s artistic history (James Howgego, The Guildhall Fire Judges, Guildhall Miscellany, Feb, 1953, pp 20–30.). The blend of Wright’s Scottish realism training and overseas apprenticeship in Rome, France and the Netherlands is also conveyed in other portraits in the collection, either through Wright’s hand directly or certainly by his influence, for example Sir John Keeling (1607–71), Sir Thomas Lyttleton (1593–1650) and Sir Henry Rolle (1589–1656).

The Black Cap

One unusual portrait on the Upper Corridor East is entitled The Black Cap by Sir John Lavery (1856–1941), an Edwardian society portraitist who was criticised at that time for suppressing character in favour of abstract design (see left). He did not produce elaborate study drawings or a compositional plan because he believed in recording directly what he saw and felt.

This portrait has been identified (correctly I believe) by art historian Kenneth McConkey as Charles Darling (1849–1936), a High Court judge from 1897–1923 and it is consistent in likeness with a second portrait of him in the Inner Temple collection by Edward Halliday (1902–84), dated 1928.

Called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1874, Darling was a notable collector. Having been satisfied with a portrait by Lavery of his daughter in 1905, he commissioned his own portrait the following year. It was dedicated by the artist to ‘all Hanging Committees unfriendly to good work’. Darling evidently was happy to conform to the artist’s style of representation, by subsuming his own character within the overarching preference for an atmosphere dominated by colour Not a highly finished work, this painting develops a Whistlerian mood in harmony with a late Aestheticism and is one of the highlights of the collection.

Realistic and recognisable

Inner Temple therefore possesses a collection that can be viewed as strong in Restoration paintings and contemporary works. But the intervening centuries are not neglected with leading figures being portrayed by George Romney (1734–1802) or Thomas Phillips (1770–1845) or Gerald Kelly (1879–1972). Judged as a whole this collection conveys the constant wish by members of Inner Temple to ensure their colleagues are portrayed ‘realistically’ and with a recognisable likeness. This was commented upon by John Evelyn and is indicated by the comparative absence of paintings by Lely whose ability to convey a likeness was evidently considered questionable.

Pat Hardy is assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery specialising in 18th and 19th century art.