I was in the Royal College of Surgeons for a conference the other day, and wandered past this vast canvas.
It is one of a number of paintings hanging around the place, depicting various committees and groups of Fellows of the Royal College. The other pictures depict small groups of people in natural looking poses. The result is a convincing ‘action shot’ of the Great and the Good, and they look quite dignified. This one, however, is clearly a composite of dozens of individual portraits, and the inaccuracies of scale and sightlines make for a slightly disconcerting effect. It was surely conceived as a pacifier to satisfy the members of some bloated committee.
Most bizarre is the inclusion of a tea-lady, centre-right. She has a neat plait, and her head turned shyly away from the viewer. Even so, she towers above the Fellows she is serving, and is by far the most compelling figure in the image.