Victoria Crowe: Beyond Likeness (5 stars)

Victoria Crowe: Beyond Likeness

Ronald David Laing, 1927 - 1989. Psychiatrist, 1984 / © Victoria Crowe

Major retrospective from a portrait painter of distinction

Victoria Crowe is one of the finest painters working in Scotland today. An artist of great subtlety and depth, this major exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery specifically reminds us of her importance as a portrait painter. Bringing together 54 paintings and drawings which span more than 30 years, it shows us not only how important portraiture is to her practice, but what a significant body of work she has produced.

The people we find in her work are eminent scientists, physicians, writers and composers. But here lies a challenge for the artist: the portrayal of people, often middle-aged or elderly – and conservatively dressed – in a way which captures the liveliness of their inner worlds. This Crowe does in a variety of way- from colours and poses to carefully chosen objects and books, and even through landscapes glimpsed out of a window.

As her work matures, she grows more ambitious, layering past and present, inner and outer worlds like a palimpsest. By the time she completed her 2017 portrait of Professor Timothy O'Shea, the former principal of Edinburgh University, she was layering person and place, man and work (he is an eminent computer scientist, so a robot is included), public and private, in the same picture.

There is much to delight in here: portraits of herself and her family, and three from the much-loved 'Shepherd's Life' series, inspired by her neighbour, Jenny Armstrong. However, as an artist fascinated by the workings of the mind, she is drawn to those who have explored them. Figures such as psychiatrist RD Laing, psychoanalyst Dr Winifred Rushforth are examples of this, as well as the poet Kathleen Raine, whom she paints with her eyes averted, while memories, images and words come alive in a mirror beside her. Crowe is mindful, always, of the things a portrait can't capture, the elusive essences of a person which escape even the most gifted of artists.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, until November 18, free.

Victoria Crowe: Beyond Likeness

A selection of the artist's best portraits, including images of her friend and neighbour the composer Ronald Stevenson, the medical scientist Dame Janet Vaughan, the poet Kathleen Raine, the actor Graham Crowden, the psychiatrist R D Laing, and Professor Sir Peter Higgs.

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