Commissions: Posthumous drawn portraits of a mother for her three adult children

With posthumous portraits I frequently have never met the subject and have to rely on reference photos and discussions with clients about the deceased's character to try to evoke their memory,

But when, last year, Roberta, the loving wife of one of my Italian cousins, Gianni, died unexpectedly I received a Linked In message, some months later, from her youngest daughter Lucia asking if I would undertake a triple posthumous portrait commission of her mother.

Lucia told me that her mother had always admired my work and that she wanted to commission me to portray her in three separate portraits, one for herself and two as thoughtful Christmas presents for her two older, similarly grieving sisters.

It was with both with heavy heart and joy that I agreed.  Heavy heart in that the commission was of a warm and charming relative, with a ready smile, who had died too young. Joy that I might be able to help Lucia and her sisters in the long process of coming to terms with her passing.

Pretty soon, Lucia selected three reference photographs of her mother that were high enough resolution for me to work from.  The first was of her mum, Roberta alone, the second of her holding one of her eldest daughter, Valeria's, twin girls, in her arms and the third of her holding her middle daughter, Laura's, son. 

As Lucia and I reminisced via Linked in about her mum, she reminded me how important the natural world had always been to her.  I recalled a time she and my cousin had visited us in London and we had taken her in the car to Richmond Park, where she burst into tears on seeing deer in the wild.  It was something she had never imagined possible in the heart of a huge city.  She reminded me of her mum's love for all animals, including her own pet dogs that she and her husband now cared for.

Thinking about this important aspect of Roberta's character, I suggested that, even through the images would hang separately, I could unify them with a background colour that suggested her love of nature, and, that it turned out, she loved - green.

We then decided that colourful drawings would create the life-like qualities that Lucia was looking for within the budget set.

Roberta drawn posthumous drawn portrait by Stella Tooth artistRoberta Zanotti Abate with her easy smile, meeting the gaze of the viewer and remaining with them though time.

One of the things that struck me in my virtual conversations with my cousin Lucia was how she could instantly put the name to an exact colour worn by her mother - something that helped me hugely in capturing her mother when colours in the photos were indistinct. 

It reminded me of how the few clothes I kept from my own mum after she died can instantly bring her back to me.

Roberta Zanotti Abate with one of her daughter Valeria's children by Stella Tooth artistRoberta enjoying holding one of the twins of her eldest daughter Valeria.

The way Roberta holds her sleeping granddaughter is now so familiar to me from holding my own grandson.  The baby feels safe and secure and the way the weight is distributed makes it easy to bear the sweet weight. 

Roberta with her daughter Laura's child, Willy.Roberta in one of the outfits she often wore with Willy, grandchild of her middle daughter Laura

I had to ask Lucia to remind me of the colour of her mum's eyes.  The way they almost closed when she smiled so broadly made it difficult to see.  It's important details like this that a daughter would never forget.

If you are interested in commissioning a portrait which will project the memory of a loved one through time, you can find out more by clicking here

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