I heard today the very sad news of the death of Leonard McComb RA, the former Keeper. I could not be more sad about this as I had failed to see him over the winter and was due to see him soon in Staffordshire.
I knew him from the 1990s. I commissioned him to do a portrait of Doris Lessing, the South African writer, for the NPG. It was a big thing for him, and for her as well, and he undertook it with great care and imbued it with his vein of decorative meaning. At the time, he was Keeper of the Royal Academy, trying to maintain life drawing, but in an era when students had lost interest in it as an essential discipline.
He kept on saying that he wanted to paint my portrait and eventually did so when I became Secretary of the Royal Academy, with characteristic meticulousness, depicting me sitting impassively in front of the nineteenth-century Secretary’s desk. He thought that the RA would be pleased to have a portrait of its Secretary, but it was hung behind the screen on the exit to the shop, where nobody would see it, a punishment for it being delivered late.
By the time I arrived at the RA, Leonard had become slightly cussed and he probably always had a strong independence of mind, arriving at meetings of the General Assembly in an old-fashioned suit with wide lapels. But I admired him as an artist for a vein of fantasy and magic realism, and as a beautiful draughtsman. He was the only current RA to have been elected as a draughtsman.