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Portraits that tell deeper stories about their subjects

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Issue 2605
Portrait of RD Laing

Portrait of RD Laing

Victoria Crowe’s portraits strongly reflect the emotional and intellectual relationship that she formed with her subjects.

Each portrait brings out something of the social background, upbringing, and passions of the individual depicted.

There’s a fine portrait of Ole Lippmann, leading organiser of the Danish Resistance.

It reflects on the tragic consequences of the raid by RAF bombers on the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen in 1945.


Lippmann had planned the raid to save the lives of resistance fighters imprisoned there. But some of the bombs hit the wrong building, killing 56 schoolchildren.

Ole was haunted by this tragedy, a point made in the excellent artist’s notes to the painting.

Another fine portrait is of the artist’s son Ben, who tragically died of cancer in his twenties.

In the background a military exercise is taking place in preparation for the first Gulf War of 1991. It reminds us of contemporary wars and today’s anti-war movement.

Among several portraits of people from very privileged backgrounds, we also see Janet Vaugh, physician, researcher, and “determined socialist from a privileged background”. She was a witness to the Spanish Civil War. She was also a member of the first medical team to enter Belsen concentration camp in 1945, where they worked flat out to save hundreds of prisoners from death.

Go and see this exhibition. The portraits are fantastic and you will learn a lot about the passions, fears and attitudes of the people portrayed.

Gordon Davie

Victoria Crowe—beyond likeness
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
Until 18 November. Free


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