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The artist who captured a 'national treasure' puts us in the frame about her work

Harrogate Convention Centre


To capture the essence of a person on canvas is perhaps the holy grail of portraiture.

Obtaining a likeness using oils and paintbrushes is impressive enough, but to bring out an individual’s very essence in a portrait is a talent the less artistically-gifted of us can only marvel at.

Artist Imogen Man is one such talent. At the age of 25, fresh from art school in Florence, she was commissioned to create a portrait of former Royal Hall Restoration Trust chairwoman Lilian Mina – the driving force behind a six-year campaign which raised almost £3million.

The efforts helped reach the £8million target needed to restore the Edwardian theatre, which at the start of the millennium faced an uncertain future after a century of wear and tear.

Tragically, Lillian lost her battle with cancer just months after the official reopening of the Royal Hall in 2008, prompting Prince Charles to refer to her as a ‘national treasure’.

Looking for a fitting way to mark her contribution to Harrogate’s heritage, her fellow fundraisers commissioned a portrait of Lilian to hang in the Royal Hall.

Now, 10 years on, London-based Imogen has visited her work to see it for the first time since she completed it.

She said: “Once I’d finished the portrait I didn’t know where it had been hung. I found out later when I was building my website and looking for examples of my portraits.

“I nearly always work from photographs and that was the case with Lilian because she had passed away when I was commissioned to do the portrait. I knew very little about her other than she had done this amazing job of raising lots and lots of money for the restoration fund.”

Lilian with HRH The Prince of Wales at the official opening of the restored Royal Hall in 2008
Lilian with HRH The Prince of Wales at the official opening of the restored Royal Hall in 2008

One phrase Imogen likes to use when describing the way she works is “I just draw what I see” and that’s exactly how she approached the portrait of Lilian.

Working in oils, rather than her preferred medium of pastels, Imogen said she just ‘went for it’.

“I just go straight on to the canvas with the oils,” she explained. “There were no preliminary drawings. I was just working from one particular photograph, although from other images I had seen I could see Lilian was very elegant. I just painted what I saw.

“I think it took about a month to complete. It gets to a point where I just know I’m nearing the end. Some artists say they don’t know when to stop but I just seem to know when a work is done.”

Visiting the Royal Hall with her family, for the first time, in May, Imogen came face-to-face with her work in the foyer of the theatre, where it hangs in the natural light coming through the ornate glass doors opposite.

She said: “I know she was an amazing woman. I feel very proud to have painted her. The painting looks at home in such a grand frame and such a grand hall.”

If you would like to see Imogen’s portrait of Lilian Mina and learn more about the work of the Restoration Trust, The Royal Hall holds a programme of free open days throughout the year.

For the full schedule head to www.harrogateconventioncentre....

The portrait of Lilian Mina MBE in the Royal Hall
The portrait of Lilian Mina MBE in the Royal Hall
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