Having visited Italy at least twice a year for work over the last decade Alan and Susan returned after a three year interlude whilst working on commissions in Oman to studying in Florence, where Alan participated in a challenging portraiture course at the renowned Charles H. Cecil studio.
Fast forward a year later and Alan and Susan found themselves back in their beloved Venice for 5 nights, this time with Susan’s mother and sister coming along for the adventure too. While they stayed in the beautiful Carnival Palace hotel, Alan and Susan were overjoyed to stay with dear family friend Nai who had taken Susan under her wing when she was in her early twenties and lived in Venice with her two children Louise and Oliver for several years.
Keen to continue to develop his new skills in portraiture, Alan asked Nai if she would sit for him while he painted her. What better way to preserve the memory of their dear old friend than with a portrait? Scanning through his trusty Italian pocket sketchbooks today, it’s clear to see how much Alan’s confidence had grown since his first tentative classes learning the art of portraiture and the sight-size method just a year previously.
Having forged an internationally-successful career as a watercolourist, working with oils and swapping figures in the distance of his cityscapes for the finer details of a person’s hair, skin and facial features was undoubtedly a new challenge.
During their trip to Venice in September 2012 the family visited some of the city’s best known landmarks: an afternoon at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where 20th century modern art devotee Peggy Guggenheim lived, now the location of her museum, an unfinished 18th century palace on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.
They enjoyed a stroll through the Giardini della Biennale (Biennale’s Gardens), supper at the Gam-Gam Restaurant in the Jewish Quarter and coffee beneath the beautiful architecture of before pausing at a rather special, significant place for both Alan and Susan…
Hanging proudly on their staircase at home in Northumberland, Alan’s portrait of Susan sitting inside St Mark’s speaks louder than perhaps any of the other pieces of artwork in the house. It was here Susan found her salvation – a beautiful, completely unexpected moment where she felt the presence of God and thus began her rebirth as a Christian. As always, Alan would sketch fervently, often painting on location come rain or shine to gather reference for his popular Italian Collection – a series of original paintings and prints of Italy.
On this particular trip Alan took reference of St Mark’s Square on a rainy winter’s day and decided to add his granddaughter Emily, in a vivid red coat into the crowd of people scurrying across the piazza keen to escape the impending snow shower, similar to a painting he had completed of Newcastle’s iconic Grey Street. Unintentionally reminiscent of the 1973 Donald Sutherland film “Don’t Look Now”, in which a married couple grieving the recent death of their daughter, often pictured in a red coat visit Venice, “Girl in the Red Coat” went on to become one of Alan’s most popular giclee prints after the original had sold.
A beautiful balance of inspiring architecture, reflection, gaining reference for future paintings and a chance to enjoy a trip away with family, Alan and Susan were about to embark on a brand new adventure that brought the business and Italy closer than ever.