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A portrait of the eminent biologist, Sir Martin Evans, holding a petri dish in his left hand and a blue pen in the right, depicted under a spotlight with a page from his notebook in the background

Case study

painting Sir Martin Evans

It took a while to come up with the composition for the painting of this eminent scientist. Painting a few little studies in oil helped.

Sir Martin Evans was the first scientist to identify embryonic stem cells. In 2007, together with Mario Capecchi and Oliver Smithies, he jointly won the Nobel Prize for "a series of ground-breaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and DNA recombination in mammals." The National Portrait Gallery wanted to celebrate his achievements by commissioning a portrait of him and asked me if I would be interested. 


Sir Martin and I arranged to me at his laboratory in the University of Cardiff University. As he showed me round, we talked a bit about the work he and his colleagues did there. It was clear that none of his achievements would have been possible without the significant contribution of mice. I always have a camera with me and asked if I might take some photos of him with one of them.


Later on, over coffee, he explained more about what embryonic stem cells were, why they were important, and how he had made his discovery. I took more photos and used one or two of them to develop some oil studies back in the studio.

I showed The Gallery what I had been doing, but they weren't keen on having a mouse in the picture. There was some concern that it might provoke animal rights activists, so I took a different approach.

At our next sitting, I asked Sir Martin if he would pose for me with a Petri dish, and highlighted him in action with a studio spotlight I had brought along. I thought this would help highlight the dramatic nature of his discovery.

In my final study I painted him with a blood-red background and a page from one of his notebooks, but later tempered it with a more neutral one.

Sir Martin Evans, study 1

study 1

Sir Martin Evans, study 2

study 2

Sir Martin Evans, study 3

study 3

Sir Martin Evans, study 4

study 4

Sir Martin Evans, study 5

study 5a

Sir Martin Evans, study 6

study 5b

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