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Dancing with Darcey: artist Fletcher Sibthorp

PUBLISHED: 12:44 01 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:44 01 July 2014

Darcey in Three Movements

Darcey in Three Movements

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Fascinated by human motion, Hertfordshire-born artist Fletcher Sibthorp has become renowned as a painter of dancers. His remarkable portrait of prima ballerina and Strictly star Darcey Bussell is raising thousands to train ballet stars of the future. By Stephanie Wright

Flamenco - an inspiration for the artistFlamenco - an inspiration for the artist

Born in Hertfordshire in 1967, Fletcher Sibthorp studied illustration in the 1980s at Kingston University, where he quickly became entranced by the effects of movement on the human form.

Experimenting mostly in oil, the artist’s key influences were the detailed performing figures of Edgar Degas, the shining colours and economic lines of Gustav Klimt and the dynamic portraits of Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach. After a few years completing commissions for book jackets and corporate brochures, but working to a larger format and agenda in his own time, he organised his first solo show in 1992, aptly titled In Motion.

These early works featured athletes and gymnasts, but Sibthorp is now renowned above all for his dance paintings. Following a long fascination with the flamboyant and dramatic movement of flamenco, Sibthorp moved his attentions to ballet and began attending dress rehearsals and photo-calls at the Royal Opera House, sketching and painting dancers from the Royal Ballet. A 2007 exhibition at the Medici Gallery in Cork Street, London saw one of these paintings – a work featuring movements from the production of Danse à Grande Vitesse, starring Darcey Bussell – sell for a princely £25,000.

Sibthorp’s artistic relationship with Bussell is a long one. In her early days at the Royal Ballet, at just 21-years-old, she modelled for him. Years later and at the height of her fame, Darcey approached Sibthorp to create another portrait – to hang in a studio named in her honour at the Royal Ballet School. The result is a subtle, beautiful and light-filled portrait entitled Darcey in Three Movements of Bussell dancing across the canvas (pictured opening page).

Fletcher Sibthorp in his studioFletcher Sibthorp in his studio

‘After visiting the studio, I was struck by the grand nature and light of the space and was inspired to produce a piece that reflected this,’ explains Sibthorp. ‘Like all dancers, Darcey has spent more hours in the studio perfecting her art than on stage, so it was important to me to portray her in a studio that was named after her.’

Throughout the creative process, Bussell offered guidance and advice to the artist, and the resulting image captures the elegance and control that made her one of the world’s most celebrated dancers.

The painting, as well as adorning its walls, has gone on to help the school in which it hangs. It was reproduced in a limited edition of 295 prints signed by Bussell on Hahnemüh German etching paper, with, a generous percentage of the sale of each going to the Royal Ballet School. Thanks to its popularity, more than £5,000 has been raised to help train new ballet dancers there.

Today, there is just one print left for sale, artist proof 4/30 at £695, and it is in Hertfordshire – at the fine-art Montague’s Gallery in Kings Langley. Gallery manager Chloe Killen said, 
‘We are delighted to have the last print of Darcey in Three Movements, especially given the artist’s close connections to the county.’

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