Next month sees an exhibition of the work of Neil Forster (1939-2016), the figurative artist with a special gift for animal portraiture, especially dogs and horses.

Engaging and charismatic, Neil Forster led a Bohemian, erratic, sometimes nomadic life, and was a close friend of the Prince of Wales, to whom he gave painting lessons.

He also taught watercolour techniques to the Duchess of Cornwall and accompanied them both on painting expeditions in the Scottish Highlands. He produced portraits, usually in pastel, of various princely animal companions, and even of the Prince himself in his role as the last colonel-in-chief of the Gordon Highlanders, which now hangs in their regimental museum.

Biographer, friend and fellow artist Tristram Lewis writes, “Watercolour, oil and, more often, pastel were his means to colour, but it was drawing and line in which the essence of his abilities were most closely related.”

Neil Forster showed early promise, winning a junior painting competition sponsored by the Royal Academy while at preparatory school, and later won a scholarship to Byam Shaw School of Art.

Gallery owner Roy Petley said, “He could bring animals to life through their eyes, from the forlorn look of a puppy to the intense glare of wild mares being rounded up.”

Forster’s most enthusiastic patron was Mark Birley, founder of Annabel’s Night Club and a friend for more than 40 years, during which time Forster painted almost every dog the family owned– some of which were proudly displayed on the walls of his Annabel’s. Mark’s son, Robin, later continued his father’s patronage, supporting Neil with regular commissions.

Another commission came from the actor Rex Harrison. Forster drew Rex’s old Basset Hound, Homer, and Rex reportedly loved it so much, he wouldn’t even let it go to the framer!

Tristram Lewis quotes another gallery owner, who said, “I can’t think of any more talented portraitist, either of people or of animals, since the second World War. His gifts were sublime.”

To view the catalogue for the forthcoming exhibition:

The catalogue has a foreword from Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who describes herself as “one of his very, very amateur pupils”.

Dates: November 2-27 2021

Location: Osborne Studio Gallery, 2 Motcomb St, Belgravia, London, SW1X 8JU

Entry: Free admission to the gallery


Neil Forster with his Briard, Keeley


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