In 2001, Anthony Harris recalled going as a young man in 1959 to the Grosvenor Hotel near London’s Victoria Station to meet Ruth Borchard, and ‘being somewhat over-awed by the grand surroundings… Ruth asked me to hold up my self-portrait against myself and to pose for a few seconds (it seemed like several minutes to me, surrounded by all the other guests in the lounge). I believe the price was 15 guineas, which I thought was a minor fortune at that time.’
He was born in Reading in 1931. He painted the self-portrait in early 1958 – he was twenty-seven years old – in a room (which he used as a studio) in the Chiswick, London house he then shared. Looking at a photo of the picture more than forty years later, his first reaction was one of being ‘amazed how thin I was!’ He partly ascribes his tentative yet alert look here to the fact that ‘I was particularly concerned to get everything right’, and partly to the fact that ‘in doing a self-portrait one is aware the image is reversed’. He says now that he has ‘always had darkness under the eyes’, a noticeable feature in this painting.
The picture can be seen as a statement about the young man as aspiring artist. Harris portrays himself in a makeshift studio room with its brickwork wall (or brickwork-textured wallpaper) on which a painting is hung (Harris’s 1952 Night Scene, Reading), as well as the side of the canvas, two brushes and a palette surface. He has all he needs around him, nothing is wanting in this bare environment. It is a harmonious, measured composition with singular, subtle tones spreading throughout. The exterior light falling on the right side of his face, and illuminating his fair hair, contributes also to his searching look.
The deep, almost hewed-out cavities under the eyes (accentuated still further by redness of the high cheekbones) suggest strain and tiredness, and yet the closed, sensual lips hint perhaps at an incipient smile.
From 1946-8, Harris was a part-time student at Reading University. He then studied full-time from 1948-53 in the University’s Department of Fine Art. From 1975-86, he was Vice-Principal at Chelsea School of Art in London. From 1986-9, he was Head of the Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts in London.