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by Jenny Pery

Andrew Festing is the third son of Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing. On leaving school he wanted to become an artist, but paternal opposition propelled him into the Army. He served nine years in the Rifle Brigade followed by thirteen years working at Sotheby’s where he became Head of British Painting. His decision to give up his job and become a full time portrait painter met with spectacular success and, with almost a thousand portraits to his name, he is at the peak of his career. With typical modesty he writes “For some reason it has been deemed appropriate to publish a book about my work.”

The first half of Jenny Pery’s book explores Festing’s family background and upbringing. It covers his time in the Army, which taught him discipline, and at Sotheby’s, where his access to great paintings revived his desire to become a painter himself. His years as President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, his direct and vigorous approach to painting and his commissions, from individual heads to set pieces containing hundreds of figures, are candidly described in the last four chapters. This beautiful and lavishly illustrated book, featuring a generous selection of his paintings, captures his extraordinary yet understated talent and contains a comprehensive list of Festing’s portraits.

Among his latest works, one which will strike a chord with many readers of The Guards Magazine is a striking study of Regimental Sergeant Major Raymond Huggins, formerly Grenadier Guards and Academy Sergeant Major, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Still with the erect posture of a Grenadier, the contrasting light on his face portrays his natural authority, humanity and humour. Military artists often highlight uniform buttons identically without realising, as Festing demonstrates, that the human body subtly alters the angle they face.

Festing’s ability to give force and power to the character of his sitter is derived from his own self effacement and deep interest and analysis of those he is painting. As Betty Boothroyd said when she was first shown her official portrait as Speaker of the House of Commons: ‘There’s only one thing wrong Mr Festing - I can’t find anything wrong with it’.             

Philip Wright

Andrew Festing: Face Value by Jenny Pery is published by Third Millennium Publishing www.tmiltd.com/festing

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