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Winner: Archibald Prize 2001

Nicholas Harding John Bell as King Lear

oil on canvas on board

177 x 105 cm

Nicholas Harding is a fan of the Bell Shakespeare Company and has seen all their productions since the company’s debut. But it was their production of King Lear starring John Bell and directed by Barrie Kosky, which really fired Harding’s imagination. ‘I sat in the front row,’ he says. ‘It was very dramatic and exciting, and John’s performance was riveting.’

Harding’s initial impulse was to paint Bell in character although he decided to paint him as himself first and so become better acquainted with his physical form. This he did and the resulting portrait was hung in last year’s Archibald.

Now painting Bell in character, Harding used stage lighting to highlight the form and sharp contrasts of his head. ‘To have him in character has allowed me to capture a more intense expression on his face. The wonderful red coat he wore as Lear has also worked well for the portrait.’

Born in London in 1956, Harding came to Australia in 1965. He completed a Bachelor of Arts in 1975, travelled through Europe then returned to Australia to a career as an animator, illustrator and painter.