Painting beauty and truth

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Phoebe Dickinson painting Rose Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, photographed by Harry Cory Wright.

Friday, November 18, 2022. Got cold, high 40s in the days and into the 30s at night. They’re telling us its gonna be more like November. For a while. Winter ain’t like what it used to be when in January some people actually, for their own pleasure, skied down Park Avenue which was carless. Nevertheless in less than a week is the First Holiday of the Season which promotes the pleasure of your company. Even if you don’t.

Which speaking of that, (pleasure), my friend Evelyn Tompkins invited me to have lunch with a friend of hers in from London, a painter, that she’d like me to meet.  So a few days later, we did meet for lunch at Dowling’s at The Carlyle with Evelyn hosting.

I had envisioned this woman painter from London when Evelyn first talked about her. I wondered what she’d be like. Old? Young? Evelyn didn’t say and I didn’t ask. I kind of imagined an older woman who might be single and purposely older looking. Eccentric. It’s all my imagination but how I cast it.

Well, I was way off. Her name is Phoebe Dickinson, a very attractive blonde woman maybe in her early 40s, accompanied by her husband who is a filmmaker and also an art dealer. And Phoebe is a painter of portraits and the land.

Artist Phoebe Dickinson photographed by Harry Cory Wright.

There is nothing eccentric about her or her personality. She’s quite present as indeed a great portraitist must be when working. And friendly. She and her husband and family live in the Cotswolds where she grew up. Just hearing about the Cotswold excited me. The first time I ever went to England I was taken to the Cotswalds. It’s English poetry to the eye and quietly thrilling. So I find myself identifying with the painter.

Palladian Bridge at Stowe painted by Phoebe Dickinson.
The Garden Door.
More of Phoebe’s landscapes in progress.

Her greatest inspiration is John Singer Sargent. She’s been excited to follow in his footsteps and painted portraits of the Cholmondeleys at Houghton Hall.

She told me one of the hardest portraits she’s done was of the Bamford grandchildren at Daylesford House. The portrait was so big she had to convert her drawing room into her studio, plus at the time she was also having morning sickness which made it physically very challenging.

Phoebe painting ‘the Bamford grandchildren at Daylesford house’ in London.
The finished painting.

She now has a substantial collection of her work. Her objective, as she explained is “to create beautiful timeless portraits that can be enjoyed by viewers for generations to come whether they know the sitter or not.”

To do this, she likes to incorporate still life and interiors in her portraiture. She also always discusses the clothes for the sitter “as the clothing can tell us so much about the person.” She also likes to paint people in their homes as so often their home is a deep expression of who they are.

Phoebe’s portrait of Rose Cholmondeley, which won the The Burke’s Peerage Foundation Award at the The Royal Society of Portrait Painters show.
Phoebe painting the Cholmondeley children in the great William Kent stone hall at Houghton Hall.
The finished painting.
A painting of ‘Lady Mary on set at Highclere’ as part of a series of paintings that Phoebe was commissioned to do by the producers of Downton Abbey.
L. to r.: Girl in a Pinafore; Boy in an Austrian Jacket.
Four Sisters.
Gergely and Paul at Sheringham Hall.
This painting of Althea won the RP Award at the The Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

These days she and her husband and two children in live in a 17th century farmhouse in a hidden valley in the Cotswolds. She  has a studio there and the remote setting allows her to paint in “relative peace and quiet!”

She’s been over here and was staying with Evelyn and with Ann Nitze in Palm Beach, painting a few commissions. And she and her husband came to New York because Evelyn and Ann were putting on her first solo show in the US.

Phoebe with her eldest daughter.

For the exhibit she chose paintings of places she loves and finds beautiful or inspiring, such as Leighton House (Lord Leightons studio), Stourhead, and La Casella — a wonderful and famous house and garden in the south of France designed and owned by the great Colefax designer Tom Parr.”

What she loves about her “job” (my quotes, not hers) is the places and houses she sees, and “the wonderful people” she meets. “For example the reason I painted at La Casella was because I painted portraits of all the family that own the house and they then lent me the house to paint at.” She also teaches “almost every year” a painting workshop at the beautiful Villa Cetinale in Tuscany.

Th Gardens of La Casella.
Painters at Villa Cetinale.

“I absolutely adored painting a portrait there of the Lambton children in the frescoed dining room.”

The Lambton Children at Villa Cetinale.

I asked if she ever had any problems with sitters: “My worst sitters are always family members. When I painted my father he tried to escape out of the window. He is not good at sitting still! My sister fell asleep constantly and I had to get quite bossy with her.”

A study of Phoebe’s mother.
And Phoebe’s father, before the great escape.

For more information on Phoebe, visit

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