Copyright: Jorge Herrera Photography
A newly commissioned portrait of Dame Monica Mason, by artist Saied Dai has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery.
In the larger than life-size portrait, Dame Monica – former ballerina and Director of the Royal Ballet – takes on a commanding pose as she sits holding a mask; a position reflective of a dancer’s poise combined with a director’s authority and scrutiny. Dai first met Dame Monica at the Royal Opera House during her final weeks as Director of the Royal Ballet before her retirement in 2012. The sittings for the portrait took place at the artist’s studio in Bath over a period of eight months.
Dame Monica Mason has led a remarkable career and been a key figure in British cultural life for over fifty-four years. She moved to Britain from Johannesburg, South Africa, with her family in 1941 at the age of fourteen to attend the Royal Ballet School. She joined the Royal Ballet Company when she was just sixteen as their youngest ever member, and came to prominence when she was selected by Kenneth MacMillan for his production of The Rite of Spring in 1962, and she became a Principal dancer 1968. In 1991 she was appointed Assistant Director of the Royal Ballet and succeeded Ross Stretton as Director in 2002.
Artist Saied Dai, too, was born outside Britain, moving from Tehran to England at the age of six in 1964. He has been a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters since 2004 and the New English Art Club since 2009. In 2006 he was awarded the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and his work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery and at the Holburne Museum in Bath. About his portrait, Dai said,
The paradox of painting is that whilst the image is static and inert, on examination it must reveal movement and life. This was especially so in the case of a dancer. I was conscious of not resorting to any cliché about dance. Since Dame Monica Mason has spent her whole working life performing through ‘masks’, it appeared to be a fruitful metaphor to pursue.
The composition of the painting is tightly organised – in line, tone and colour. The drapery creates a vortex of movement at the centre of which is the still and hollow mask that draws the eye up to the living head above. I hope the painting works as a compassionate study of the person, before the attributes and appurtenances of her profession.
Dame Monica Mason by Saied Dai is on display in Room 32 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from Thursday 27 March 2014. Admission free.
DAME MONICA MASON b.1941
By Saied Dai (b.1958)
Oil on board, 2013
Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery ©National Portrait Gallery, London
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.