When Carlos Sancha was making his way as a young portrait painter seeking commissions, a Lincolnshire farmer said to him: ‘Carl, me boy, I’d like you to paint me wife, but we don’t want anything too arty.’ Later in life a critic, reviewing an exhibition which included his work, recalled the old joke about the woman looking into a pram and saying: 'What a beautiful daughter.' 'Oh yes', said the mother, 'but you should see her picture.' As one of the country’s most admired and sought-after painters of portraits and group portrait conversation pieces, Sancha did not subscribe to the edict that whoever pays the piper calls the tune, but he agreed that the person signing the cheque at least chooses the song book.
Born in London in 1920 of Anglo-Spanish parents, he became an apprentice at Carlton Studios, producing high quality advertising and magazine artwork. As an RAP pilot instructor during the Second World War, he began painting self portraits and pictures of his friends. He completed his education at Byam Shaw School of Art, where he met his future wife Sheila Neal-Green, and began to make a living painting her friends and acquaintances.
Back in London, a few ‘spec’ paintings sowed the seeds of an immensely successful career. As he put it, 'once you’ve painted the field marshall, you are asked to paint the general, and once you’ve painted the general you get the colonel'. After more than half a century painting the great and the good, his body of work is like a visual representation of Who’s Who. Sitters include Prince Philip, Prince Charles and former Prime Minister Edward Heath.
Sancha said: 'One thing I’ve learned is that whatever size of portrait I’m asked to paint, I always start with a larger canvas. You can always cut it back, but you can’t make it any bigger later on. Metaphorically speaking, I always work from a larger canvas too. I like the details on the fringes, which sum up a sitter’s character. The area around the sitter is often as important as the actual person, and it’s not so much the actual process of painting which concerns me, it’s knowing beforehand what to paint. I also like a sense of movement, so that sitters don’t look as though they are sitting for a portrait. They should look as though someone else has just walked into the room.'
Where to see this painting?
Girton College, University of Cambridge
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More on this painting
on loan from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (P)