Published: 09:00, 16 April 2012
When Clarence House wanted someone to paint last year’s royal wedding, they turned to Kent-based artist Peter Kuhfeld. A collection of his works, including his paintings of the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, are going on show.
When he was commissioned to paint William and Kate’s wedding, Peter Kuhfeld did not realise he was taking on one of the most challenging works of his career.
Of course, an artist never says no when asked to put on canvas the biggest event so far this side of the Millennium. Yet when Peter took the call last April while working in the countryside near his home in Wye, little did he know the problems that would be thrown up when he was shown his appointed position in the gallery of Westminster Abbey.
“I had a high viewpoint, not of my choice, and I had to use it,” said Peter, whose works are going on show in a London exhibition.
“I was given this problem and I had to try and solve it. It took an awful lot of toing and frowing, a long time to filter everything down.
“I had a hint from Turner, who was able to bring a whole world to life on a small scale. I’ve always admired the way Turner uses perspective. I suddenly realised that this was actually a compositional joy as well as nightmare.”
Peter made some preliminary drawings in the abbey – only pencil was permitted – and on the day itself made monochrome drawings, committing the colours to memory so that he could work them up into paintings.
Drawing his works first is actually a tried-and-tested formula for the figurative painter, who composes his paintings from squared-up drawings made on the spot.
He said: “Paper is much more convenient than lumbering around with canvases. I usually start with a pencil drawing, unless it is something to do with extremes of light, in order to find out where I am going. I know what I am going to need when I get back in the studio, and if I haven’t got it I can’t do it.”
Painting the wedding wasn’t Peter’s first royal commission. The Prince of Wales has been a patron of his throughout his career and Peter was asked to paint Prince William and Prince Harry in 1986.
“That was a huge thing for me and my name started to be bandied around London,” said Peter, 60. “Whatever I was doing for the prince was in demand. Later I painted the young princes at Kensington Palace, entirely from life, when they were about four and two. I did a lot of drawings first of all, and then Charles wanted two portraits. Harry used to come round to help me draw him, and I had to say 'Harry, I can’t draw you if you are standing here beside me’.’”
I saw this amazing grid
A regular stop-off for Peter is St Pancras Station, which he painted in spring last year. He did a painting of the surrounding King’s Cross area later in 2011.
“I never would have thought St Pancras would attract my attention in such a way,” he said. “I got off the train one day and was walking towards the barrier and suddenly saw this amazing grid with this beautiful light behind it. I had never seen it before.
“They are knocking down the Victorian area of King’s Cross and are rebuilding. I found the development really interesting, changing every time I went there. There are fabulous rhythms and shapes – boxes, cubes, cones, triangles and huge tubes going into the ground.”
`Last Tommy' portrait
Peter Kuhfeld unveiled a portrait of 111-year-old Harry Patch shorty before his death in 2009.
Known as “The Last Tommy”, Patch was the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches of the First World War and was briefly the oldest man in Europe.
Seen here at his studio in Wye, Peter described the opportunity to paint the veteran as a “privilege”.
He painted the portrait during two sittings at the care home in Somerset where Patch lived. He finished the work in 2006 and is pictured with it here in that year.
Peter Kuhfeld’s exhibition, The Journey of the Eye, will be at Messum's on Cork Street in London from Wednesday, April 18 until Saturday, May 5. Call 0207 437 5545 or visitwww.messums.com