The first of the Conversation Piece paintings is unveiled

 Back to Supporter Wall

In 1991, MCC’s Curator of Collections Stephen Green presented a paper to the Club’s Arts & Library sub-committee outlining the growth of MCC’s collection of cricket portraits since 1890.

The results, he said, had been piecemeal and a number of significant cricketers from recent decades were not represented. A lively discussion ensued. It was clear that trying to plug the gaps in the collection by commissioning a large number of individual portraits would be both time consuming and unreasonably expensive. It was decided instead to combine individual portraits with ‘conversation pieces’ featuring a number of closely associated cricketers pictured together in a real-life setting. Two sub-committee members – EW Swanton and John Woodcock, both eminent cricket writers well-versed in the history of the game – volunteered to draw up a target list of cricketers. The proposal was received with enthusiasm by the MCC Committee.

Andrew Festing was selected as artist for the Conversation Pieces. Festing was 50 years old and had been a full-time portrait painter for ten years, prior to which he had worked at the auction house Sotheby’s for more than a decade as an expert in British Pictures. He was at the time already occupied with a portrait of Swanton, which was completed in 1992. Swanton and Woodcock made several recommendations to the sub-committee, four of which were accepted - individual portraits of Sir Garfield Sobers, Graham Gooch and Keith Miller, and a Conversation Piece featuring great England cricketers from the 1950s and 1960s.

The chosen cricketers had been part of an England side which dominated world cricket from 1953 to the end of the decade: Godfrey Evans, Trevor Bailey, Peter May, Brian Statham, Denis Compton, Sir Alec Bedser, Sir Colin Cowdrey, Fred Trueman, Ted Dexter and Tom Graveney. Festing portrayed them sitting or standing around a group of Long Room chairs, and in the background placed imagined portraits of four of their contemporaries who had already died: Bill Edrich, Ken Barrington, Jim Laker and Sir Len Hutton. Dexter was perhaps the odd man out, his Test career having begun at the very end of England’s period of supremacy. But he had played alongside most of them and was undoubtedly their equal in stature.

When the Conversation Piece was unveiled in 1993 it was an immediate success. Festing would be invited to paint three more examples over the next few years, capturing successive generations of England cricketers through the 1960s, 70s and 80s as well as overseas stars Barry Richards, Clive Lloyd and Sir Richard Hadlee. All four works remain on regular display in the Pavilion at Lord’s.