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Barbara Hamilton – The painter of human souls

She has always had an artistic soul. As a child, she often drew faces. Her mom thought that she only needed paper and a pencil, and she could be occupied for hours. She was supposed to be a lawyer, but became a recognized portraitist, who immortalized many famous people, including the British Royal Family.

Barbara Hamilton was born in Sopot. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk and also studied at Accademia di Belle Arti in Venetia and in Rome. At first, nothing indicated that she would become a famous portraitist. As it happens in some families, Basia’s parents had different plans for her future. She was supposed to become a lawyer, just like her father, but luckily, there was no law faculty at University of Gdansk. She was sent to painting classes . At that time, her teacher found that she was a real diamond.

The moment that changed her life

In the beginning of her painting career, she did not think she will be a portraitist. As she recalls: “At the Academy, we were painting abstractions for six years. We were taught composition, perspective, graphics, and even anatomy, but portraits were almost forbidden.” During the time when Barbara was a student, abstraction was very popular and dominated all the world galleries.  Everything changed after one of her first exhibitions in Rome, when this young painter showed her abstractions and one self-portrait.  She was asked: “If you can paint, why are you wasting your time painting abstractions?” She soon discovered that her life passion was painting portraits. A shower of orders started to flow. Her talent and diligence was appreciated by the most affluent people in the world, who entrusted Barbara to commemorate their characters on canvas.

She painted the members of British Polonia, the president of Ognisko Polskie, Prince Eugeniusz Lubomirski, poet Stanisław Baliński, the members of the British Royal Family: The Queen Mother, HRH Princess Anne the Princess Royal and the HRH the Duke of Kent. Her artistry was also appreciated by Pope John Paul II, Maharaja Jodhpur, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Wałęsa, Borys Johnson, and many more amazing characters. Portrait of Winston Churchill ordered by his granddaughter is at Blenheim Palace in the room where he was born.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill Pastel on board (30 x 40 inch) 2009

What is so fascinating about a portrait?

A portrait is a piece of history. For the artist, it is also a form of tradition, which can be passed from generation to generation. During her travels, she met and painted many interesting characters, such as: writer Alberto Moravia, Giorgio de Chirico, Jack Hemingway, son of Ernest Hemingway, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Barbara sees the human in the portraits; she does not concentrate on who they are in real life. “When I start to paint, I forget who that person is; the creative passion is taking over and absorbs all my attention,” says Basia. She always asks her models to put on their best clothes in which they would like to be remembered. Portraits are like windows, which open the model’s inside and show their interesting stories, which changed the fate of the world. The most popular form of remembering people nowadays is photography, the painter believes that photography is unable to capture the beauty, grace and history like a painting can. There is another decorative aspect of portraits – mostly, they are in the most important place in the home and visible for each household member and visitor and are a great topic of conversation. Portraits can also be a kind of pride of ancestors and record the origin of the family. The chambers and corridors of Scottish or English castles are filled with portraits. According to Barbara Hamilton, our generation has the same right to the preservation of its history and its constituent people.

The artist and her material

A favorite and distinctive technique for Barbara is pastels, which she discovered in Italy. They allow her to create delicate or strong shadows on the faces: for women they add mystery, and for men they bring out the strength. And although she paints almost exclusively with pastels, sometimes she comes back to oil painting, which reminds her of times at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk. Regardless of the technique, she always remains true to the portrait, which is considered the most difficult art form, and the biggest challenge for the artist is to capture the likeness in a short time.

The story about emotions

Each portrait of Barbara tells the story that each of her portraits creates. The inspiration for the artist is, in fact, real life and the associated emotions that exist at the moment and will never come back. Creating a portrait is a clash between two emotional worlds: the painter refers to the adventures of her “hero” and shows its emotions as well.  From the one side, there is the excitement of creating a new form of art. On the other hand is the thoughts if the portrait will meet the expectations of the person. When models are pleased with the results, it gives her great pleasure and gives her satisfaction. On one occasion, the father, delighted with the portrait of his daughter, leaving her studio said: “If my house went up in flames, with one hand, I would grab my daughter, and with the other, I would grab her portrait”.

Chat with the Queen Mother

What was the most remarkable experience in her painting career? “Painting Her Majesty the Queen Mother on her hundredth birthday. She was in great shape and spurted with humor,” says Barbara. There is a funny anecdote with painting this portrait. The portraitist wanted to arrive a bit earlier to Clarence House, the London residence of the Queen Mother; however, her husband did not want to hurry. “I cried the whole way because my husband would not listen to me on such an important occasion,” says Barbara Hamilton. “The Queen Mother appeared in the living room, where I was waiting with an easel. At the door, she asked coquettishly, if her blue dress was appropriate. I thought then that no matter what our age is, we should try to look our best, just like the Queen Mother. I confessed about my little conflict with my husband and asked if her husband, King George, always did what she asked. Laughingly, she replied that men never do what we want.”

The Queen Mother

Her Majestry Queen Elisabeth The Queen Mother Pastel on board (30 x 40 inch) 2001

Later, Basia showed an old photograph in which the Queen Mother was in the company of Polish soldiers. The Queen Mother exclaimed: “I know exactly where this photograph was taken – in Forfar.” The artist emphasizes that the Queen Mother was a fascinating and cheerful woman with a great sense of humor. “I hope that I managed to capture some of these features in the portrait, which is in the Sikorski Museum in London.”

Woman who inspires

The life of Barbara Hamilton is a great example that hard work and passion pays off. She is a Pole that every Pole should be proud of, an artist who proudly represents us internationally, and above all, a woman with an amazing life. Enthusiasm and creativity that can inspire anyone.

All interested in the works of Barbara Hamilton, please visit the artist’s website: www.basiahamilton.com 

By Nicole Termin
Photos: Bokeh*Pictures
Make up: Sylwia Kunysz