Artist Interview: Paul Driver, artist for the film ‘The Duke’

by Cass Art

Artist Paul Driver had the unusual task to create two exact replica paintings of Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, for use in The Duke, the recent British film starring Jim Broadbent & Helen Mirren. The film tells the incredible true story of how, in the 1960s, one man stole the painting from the National Gallery and held it ransom to persuade the government to invest more in care for the elderly.

We caught up with Paul to hear about how he went about recreating the masterpiece, and what the National Gallery thought of his work!

Hi Paul! Have you always been interested in painting?

I’ve always painted, ever since I was a kid. They told me I was drawing before I could talk properly. I thought I wanted to go to an art college so I went there when I left school for 12 months and it destroyed me. Their idea of art was throwing paint from 2 or 3 floors up onto big, vast reams of paper. It just wasn’t me – I just wanted to learn technique so I left. I then became a dental technician, but whatever I did, it was always to finance my artwork.

How did you become involved with the film?

It was an email, completely out of the blue, from Kristian Milstead who was the production manager. I’d done work for him before and he must’ve kept my details. He said “would you be able to do a copy of Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington?” for this film he was about to produce. I was just trying, and if you don’t try, you’ll kick yourself for the rest of your life. Then it all went down to this – it is mind-blowing.

Were you aware of the true story behind the theft of the painting?

I’d not seen the original painting, so I had to do a bit of reading up on it to find out some of the aspects of the painting. I was completely in the dark about the painting’s theft. I didn’t know it was a real story when I found out about the film. I read the synopsis, and I thought “I can’t let anyone down here” because the painting is really central to the film. I really had to nail this, I really had to go for it, and thankfully it all turned out alright. It was great, but yeah, it was a challenge.

How did you go about painting the reproduction of the Portrait of the Duke of Wellington?

When I got the commission, Production asked me to come down to the National Gallery to view the original Duke of Wellington by Goya. I set about doing study work on it: sketches, notes, photographs… I wasn’t sure how detailed they wanted to go, so I was busy drawing all the crackle on the painting. After maybe 35 minutes, I noticed I was being watched like a hawk by two guards. So I finished off and I thought “it’s time to leave” just in case I got thrown out.

So I bought a poster of it, because I was probably getting too close to the actual original painting for the liking of the guards, to look at how it’s constructed and the brushwork on it. It was a great help; it was fantastic because I could, more or less, glean the colours from it. It also really helped because you’re able to discern a lot of the brushstrokes. If you look at the painting of a Goya, the eyes that seem to run through his work are all very similar. He always had the sitter’s mouth slightly open so you can just see the teeth of the person that he painted. It seems to run through his catalogue of work.

They sent mahogany panels – which the original was done on. I worked those up, gridding the original portrait, slightly reduced the drawing and traced it onto the panels. Then I drew it all out again – double, because Production wanted two copies! - and then I started working on it.

Always when I start a portrait, I begin with the eyes because like they say, they are the window to the soul and if you get the eyes right, you’re halfway there getting a portrait. Basically you’re looking to find something behind what you see. Their character. Their being, if you will.

I had no time to do any sort of underpainting. It was a case of working alla prima - straight off - so I worked in conjunction, both heads together, doing so much, and then I’d turn the paintings upside down and working on them that way, because you see all your mistakes. It fools the eye to look at things differently. You may have the corner of the mouth slightly twisted. You can also use a mirror, where you’re looking at it back to front in a mirror and you can see all your mistakes. I did that and worked the heads up together to get them near enough, and then I worked on the tunics.

The thing that puzzled me, was where there was a dark shadow behind his left shoulder and arm which I thought could have been a chair or Pentimenti showing through. From what I could gather, Goya, had a 12 hour sitting with the Duke of Wellington in Madrid, so he would’ve had to just get on with it and crack on painting, so that’s how I had to look at it, because they wanted both replicas within 4 weeks.  

With the reduced time that I had to work with, I used the Winsor & Newton alkyd paints which have an accelerator mixed in with them, and I used those mixed in with some of the normal oil paint because it sped everything up. But I was unable to put in a lot of the glaze work which I would’ve liked to put in, because I just didn’t have enough time. It wouldn’t have dried, because oils take such a long time to dry. You could’ve done it in acrylics but you don’t get the richness of an oil paint. When using watercolour or acrylics, it’s like listening to a string quartet, but when you’re working with oils, it’s like the full orchestra!

I couldn’t varnish them because I was terrified that if I did, it would alter the surface, and I had no time to rectify it. There were lots of subtleties, but I had to do it straight up. That was a big challenge.

Letizia Treves, Curator of Spanish Paintings at the National Gallery said of the work ‘Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was painted at speed – and with great fluency – in the summer of 1812, just after Wellington’s triumphant entry into Madrid. Goya’s confident and free handling of paint is extremely difficult to emulate, and yet Paul Driver’s recreation is utterly convincing on film.’ How did you feel when the National Gallery curator complimented your painting?

When I heard that, some of the curators from the National Gallery had seen the film, and that they were really impressed with my work, it was a fantastic compliment. The thing is, you’re always trying to put your talents against the Old Masters, like Goya, and for a curator to say that… I was very impressed.

If you could take any painting from the National Gallery, which would it be?

I would probably take with me The Syndics by Rembrandt. It is fantastic. If not, it would be Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire.

If you could choose anyone to have your portrait done by, who would it be?

If I had to be painted by someone it would probably be Velázquez – he painted like we breathe. A fabulous artist.

Feeling inspired?

See more of Paul’s work on Instagram @pauldriverart. If you’re based in the North East, you can see one of Paul’s replica paintings on display at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle until end of March 2022.

Watch the film trailer below and check out The Duke in cinemas now



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