The Body Beautiful?


Portrait and figure painting is often judged on the conventional attractiveness of the sitter rather than the quality of the painting. In this panel discussion we look at the ways in which artists, sitters and commissioners use this to challenge conceptions of conventional beauty.

Speakers include:

Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy at Changing Faces

Esther Bunting, Performance artists and Founder of Spirited Bodies

Emma Hopkins RP, Artist

Sylvia Mac, Founder of Love Disfigure

Chair: Alastair Adams, Past President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

Alastair Adams has been painting portraits since the mid 1990’s over which time he has established a strong reputation as a commissioned portrait artist. He was elected as a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 202 and in 2008 he was made President, the youngest in the Society’s 120 year history. Alastair also holds a research based lecturing position at Loughborough University and has published papers on commissioned portraiture, the application of life drawing within a modern educational context, drawing and visualisation and facial difference.

Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy at Changing Faces

Changing Faces is a United Kingdom charity supporting and representing children, young people and adults who have a visible difference to the face, hands or body, whether present from birth or caused by accident, injury or by illness or medical episode. It campaigns to change public opinion and combat discrimination and to help and support those with a visual difference.

For over 10 years Henrietta has headed up the Advocacy work for the leading UK disfigurement charity Changing Faces. She works closely with healthcare professionals, the media, government, business and educationalists to create a society where face equality is the norm and everyone is able to live confidently reaching their full potential free from facial prejudice.

Esther Bunting, Performance artists and Founder of Spirited Bodies

Esther Bunting has worked as a professional life model and portrait model for more than a decade. In 2010 she founded Spirited Bodies, a project to help women gain empowerment through the experience of life modelling and acceptance of their own bodies. This work has provided a unique insight into participants' perceptions of their physical appearance and their responses to the way others capture them in artworks. The first Spirited Bodies event took place at Mall Galleries in collaboration with Hesketh Hubbard Art Society. Subsequent events have ranged from intimate workshops to large-scale life drawing extravaganzas, with up to 40 people modelling nude together and even more artists drawing them. Since 2013, Spirited Bodies has been a regular feature at the Southbank Centre's 'Women of the World' festival, and has run sessions from southwest England up to Perth in Scotland. More recent events have focused on the diverse stories of women, with individual talks and group discussions enriching each life modelling workshop. Esther is also a performance artist and writer. She publishes observations from her life and work at and 

Emma Hopkins RP, Artist

Born in Brighton in 1989, Emma completed a degree at University of the Arts London, where she was trained in the special art of Prosthetics for Performance. It was this that instilled an obsession with the human form and anatomy, one which coupled with her passion for the traditional techniques of portrait painting, led to Hopkins’ approach being so unique. Unlike most portrait painters Emma’s practice is to paint portraits only in the nude saying‘We are not just the clothed person we present to the world. We are the mind and body that we inhabit, which at no point stay the same’ .  This approach allows the paintings to act as ‘a mirror to our multifaceted nature, allowing me to explore themes that I fear the most; hidden motives, illness and death’.

Image: Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC Michael Boateng for "Changing Faces" - Changing Faces Commission