A double portrait – Sir James and Lady Carola Campbell of Kilbryde Castle

Kilbryde Castle, near Dunblane in Central Scotland, has been home to the Campbell family since 1659. Sir James Campbell has lived there with his wife Lady Carola since 1995, moving into the main castle when he inherited the title – 9th Baronet of Aberuchill – on the death of his father in 1997.

The Commission

The previous eight baronets all have their portraits hanging in the panelled dining room, spanning a period of over 350 years. Refreshingly, James wanted to shake things up a bit and break away from the traditional and sombre half-length portraits of his ancestors.  He felt that his should be a double portrait of him with his wife, Carola, to reflect the teamwork involved in lovingly restoring the castle and its beautiful gardens to its current state – a lengthy mission started by his late father Sir Colin Campbell and his wife – and that it should be much less formal.

The Sitting

In the mid-summer of 2021, I drove to Scotland and spent the weekend with James and Carola. Although I have known them for many years, it was my first visit to Kilbryde Castle. After a thorough but leisurely recce of the house and garden (which took some time as I was hobbling on crutches with a sprained ankle), we decided that the setting for the portrait sitting should be in the lovely high-ceilinged drawing room with huge windows which overlooks the extensive and rather wonderful gardens. It is a beautifully proportioned room and the gloriously bright mid-summer Scottish light streams in. Here we were able to capture the outside and inside simultaneously. Perfect.

The Composition

A double portrait is often one of the most challenging to reconcile compositionally. Just as in the garden you always avoid planting in twos because you cannot arrange them in anything other than a line which is not aesthetically pleasing, in a painting a grouping of two figures poses a similar linear problem, and the issue of the often very central negative space between the two figures. So this where you need to think carefully how to position the figures in a dynamic way, using limbs to provide the necessary movement of the eye around the canvas.

 

 

Central to the painting sits James, holding the viewer’s gaze with a mildly amused expression, relaxed and informal in his chair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carola sits on the edge of the chair, with her glasses perched on her head, encircling him with her arms and gazing out into her beloved garden where she spends most of her time. Her floral shirt reflects her love of all things horticultural.

 

 

 

 

 

The eye travels around the painting, led by the hands and the light that pours in from the large windows stage right.

     

 

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that the painting is primarily about James. But Carola is integral to its success in the same way that she is to the running of Kilbryde Castle itself.   

The Frame

The frame can make or break any painting so has to be chosen with great care. I have a wonderful framer whose mission is to frame a painting in such a way that you hardly notice the frame. Instead it enhances the painting or drawing within. Here we chose a wide moulding (4 ¼ inches including the slip) as this is a large painting – 48 inches by 36 inches – and it deserves the weight of a large and majestic framed. Also it will be hanging in a large room and needs to be able to hold its own against the other large paintings. I always drag my long-suffering husband together with my finished portraits to a large paint supplier in Yeovil. We prop the painting up in the shop and spend ages trying all the various different Farrow and Ball, Little Greene etc sample boards up against the portrait to see what colour makes the portrait sing. Here we chose the Little Greene colours – Invisible Green for the darker colour underneath and Sage Green for the wash on top. And then we leave it to my framer to create the magic.

I am delighted with the end result. It is a frame which quietly sits around the canvas and draws the eye into the painting.

See more examples of my portraits of adults here

If you would like to find out about commissioning a portrait, please contact me

 

 

 

 

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