Born in 1981, Louise Pragnell began her training at Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University. There she gained an MA in Fine Art and graduated with a distinction in painting. She was awarded the Andrew Grant Bequest scholarship. She then completed her classical training in Florence, where she worked in a portrait atelier for a year.
Louise has exhibited in solo and group shows across London and has twice exhibited portraits in the BP Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
Louise has undertaken a number of military commissions, including her portrait of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, which hangs in the Main Hall of the Cavalry and Guards Club. She has also painted the Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, and the former Chief of General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall.
Louise has completed several large-scale group portrait commissions. Her 3-metre long portrait of 25 officers of the Household Cavalry, was officially unveiled by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, and hangs in the Knightsbridge Barracks.
Louise has recently revealed her first-ever Zoom portrait, which she completed during the lockdown as part of the #nhsportraitsforheroes campaign. Fittingly the portrait is of the preeminent Intensive Care Consultant Jim Down, a consultant in charge of critical care at the ICU at University College Hospital through the peak of the Covid-19 crisis in April this year.
Jim has been interviewed several times by the BBC firstly in 2006 when he announced the death of Alexander Litvinenko from polonium poisoning, then more recently during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jim and his team’s experience of the peak of the crisis were poignantly described in Edward Docx article in The New Statesman (see link). https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/health/2020/05/peak
The NHS Portraits for Heroes campaign is the brainchild of Tom Croft, a fellow BP portrait award finalist. It started with a post on Instagram offering a free portrait to an NHS hero however he received so many requests he enlisted his fellow artists and the campaign has snowballed from there.
Due to social distancing restrictions sittings had to take place over Zoom. Louise comments: “I would normally insist on live sittings but due to social distancing restrictions these had to take place via Zoom meetings. I was able to catch some time with Jim in late May when things had quietened down in the ICU. However being somewhat technically-challenged, I thought, “I can barely operate zoom let alone paint from it”.
“Technically Zoom is not easy to paint from as you need to keep in mind that the “fish-eye” camera is distorting and flattening the proportions and tones of a person’s face, so if you have never met them before, to a degree you are painting what you “think” they look like. You also can’t get a sense of the physical mass/presence of a person, but you can still pick up on an individual’s mannerisms and ticks, and in speaking with them on screen, you can get an idea of how they project themselves. Whilst there is no substitute for seeing people in the flesh (as we’ve all discovered), it seems on this occasion we might have got away with it! Thank you, Jim and your family for sparing me some of your very rare and precious free time.”
The portrait required 4 sittings of 60-90 minutes each. Sittings require people to pause their busy lives and ignore their phones. Whilst conversation is a crucial part of Louise getting to know her subject, their physical movement is rather limited, much as it would be in a hairdresser’s but for Jim it served as a little “time out” from his daily pressures in ICU. Jim explains ‘‘It would never have crossed my mind to have a portrait done, but in the end I really enjoyed it. Chatting over zoom about things unrelated to the hospital was a great way to wind down and the result is extra-ordinary. I am in awe.’