My best teacher
His eyes were his most striking feature. It could be unnerving when he looked at you because he had a really strong stare. He wasn't particularly tall, but he was very broad with a lot of dark brown hair, and he held himself very upright and very still.
I knew even as a child that I wanted to be an artist and left Stowe when I was 16. My parents thought I should go to art school. Annigoni heard of the plan, and, after looking at my work, invited me to go to Florence to study with him instead. For me it was perfect because art schools weren't then teaching, and don't now teach, the traditionally based drawing I was passionate about.
His secretary found me a room near his studio and I was in Florence on and off for 10 years. I wasn't his pupil as such because he didn't give lessons. I just got on with my work and took it to show him, and we would talk in his studio in the centre of Florence. I saw him in the mornings. In the afternoons he would work on his own. He didn't pay me, neither did he charge.
One of the first things he told me to do was to make drawings of plaster casts of famous sculptures. It was a technical exercise - like learning scales on the piano. He taught me how he mixed paint to his own special recipe with copious quantities of white wine and eggs. He always used good wine so he could drink any that was left. I used the recipe myself for a while, but don't any more because all my pictures ended up looking like Annigonis.
I worked with him on the frescoes he did in a chrch in Ponte Buggianese, between Pisa and Florence. We could work only in the spring and autumn, when the temperature was right for painting into a wet plaster. For several weeks we worked together all day from early morning until evening. At first I was marking up the cartoons and sometimes tracing the drawings and mixing the colours, but later I was allowed to paint some of the backgrounds and once, I did a figure of a saint.
He could be volatile, and I can remember him yelling at me up on the scaffolding. His intensity and discipline were astonishing. Sometimes,working on the frescoes, we would be up very late, having enjoyed a glass or two of chianti at the end of the day, but in the morning he would be the first on the scaffolding.
He showed me there is far more to see than you think, and he spoke endlessly about his portraits and had anecdotes about all his sitters. He told me how difficult it had been to paint President Kennedy, for example, because of all the meetings going on all the time. He talked about painting the Queen, and when I painted the Queen myself, we talked about Annigoni.
I continued to show him my work, which he criticised until he died in 1988. He was tremendously full of life and was working right up to the end.
Painter Robbie Wraith was talking to Pamela Coleman
THE STORY SO FAR
1952 born London
1963 approximately, meets Annigoni
1968 Leaves Stowe school 1969 Invited to study with Annigoni in Florence
1969-79 Working and studying in Florence
1975 First one-man show, in London
1982 Paints portrait of Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie
1995 Elected to Royal Society of Portrait Painters 1997 Accompanies Prince
Charles as official artist on royal tour of South Africa 1998 Paints
portrait of the Queen
2000 Exhibition at Albemarle Gallery, London, where his work is always