AN exhibition by one of the UK’s leading portrait artists has moved online after Arts Centre Washington was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew Tift, a renowned portrait artist famous for his paintings of leading politicians, was commissioned for a project during which he worked in three Washington residential homes to produce drawings of local pensioners.

The resulting portraits formed an important and popular part of a wider exhibition at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci last year.

The intricately-drawn pencil portraits, which were supposed to be displayed in the main gallery of Arts Centre Washington last month, now form part of an online exhibition.

Andrew said: “It’s interesting doing an online exhibition but it is always going to be a ‘Plan B’ option. I’d love to show the work one day in Washington, with some new paintings to accompany the show.

“The project is ongoing in a sense, I intend to make some ‘larger than life scale’ – colour paintings of some of the residents. It was a privilege to meet them and I got lots of rich and textured material which is still to be developed.

“Arts Centre Washington is the perfect venue to place the work back into the community which inspired it. I loved doing the project and I think it is one of my strongest bodies of work in nearly 30 years of practice. I’m so pleased that it came off – with huge help from the gallery staff.”

The One Day You’ll Be Older Too project was funded by Washington Area Committee, which provides local residents with a greater say in council affairs, through its strategic initiative budget.

Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, Councillor John Kelly, said: “It was fantastic to see one of the country’s most respected portrait artists working with people in Washington and his portraits were a huge part of last year’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing exhibition.

“Hopefully the portraits will be shown in Washington in the not-too-distant future and in the meantime I’d urge people to see them online, they really are quite remarkable.”

Andrew is one of the country’s best known artists, making his name through portraits of Tony Benn, Neil and Glenys Kinnock, and Ken Livingstone, whose portrait had been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery since 2014. He was also commissioned by the House of Lords to paint a portrait of Lord Peter Carrington.

His inspiration for One Day You’ll Be Older Too came from Fannie Flag’s novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. “The novel tells the story of a woman who visits an old people’s residential home in Alabama and befriends an old lady there who shares her stories of exuberance and sadness while she was growing up,” Andrew explained.

He added: “I visited three residential care homes who were all extremely welcoming and accommodating to me for which I am extremely grateful: Washington Manor Care Home, Washington Lodge Care Home and St George’s Residential Care Home.

“I don’t see it purely as an indigenous body of work which can only be consumed in the North East. I think people anywhere would respond to the fragility of their lives and it has become even more relevant and prescient recently with the wave of devastation that has hit care homes across the world, with the onset of Covid 19.

“I wanted to interpret the residents very much as individuals and depict them in the most intimate and sensitive way that I could. Texture of skin, bone structure, expression, mood, scars, hands, hair, eyes, clothes depicted in microscopic detail as I tried to unravel that person’s identity and experience which is so ingrained within their face.”

The portraits have been added to the Museum’s own collection and can be seen at https://sunderlandculture.org.uk

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, said: “Andrew had a long relationship with Sunderland dating back to 1994 when he completed a project with the National Portrait Gallery and BP in which he made portraits of Nissan workers and shipbuilders.

“We felt the One Day You’ll Be Older Too project would complement the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition perfectly and we had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to his portraits.

“We’re delighted his stunning and sensitive drawings are now available to anyone who wants to see them. It’s an important body of work which helps us address the way we think about older people in our community, particularly in the light of COVID-19.”