Zadie Smith painting is newest addition to National Portrait Gallery

Zadie Smith painting dubbed ‘a love letter to Black Britain’ by its Nigerian artist becomes newest addition to National Portrait Gallery

  • Full-length portrait of Zadie Smith is by Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola 
  • Author Smith said Odutola’s ‘art will have a tremendous effect on young people’
  • London’s National Portrait Gallery said painting is ‘beautiful and monumental’

The gallery said the ‘beautiful and monumental’ work ‘represents another’ step in its commitment ‘to increase representation of women and black sitters and artists’.

The full-length portrait of the White Teeth author is by Nigerian-born US artist Toyin Ojih Odutola. 

Smith said Odutola’s ‘art will have a tremendous effect on young people because I’m a grown a** woman and it’s had a tremendous effect on me’.


A painting (left) of author Zadie Smith (right in 2019)  dubbed ‘a love letter to Black Britain’ by its Nigerian artist is set to be the newest addition to the National Portrait Gallery in London

She added: ‘Becoming familiar with her images is like having something I missed and wanted in childhood delivered to me now, as an adult.

‘And to be a Toyin creation myself, on the walls of the Portrait Gallery? It’s incredible. I still can’t quite believe it.’

The artist said: ‘When I got the letter that I was to create a commission portrait of Zadie, I cried.

‘The National Portrait Gallery is one of my favourite museums in the world, and Zadie is one of my all-time favourite writers.

‘It was surreal. I took this commission to heart and wanted to create an homage to significant work this woman has done, but also a love letter to Black Britain.’

She said she wanted to ‘show an accomplished, brilliant, self-assured person in her element, with her natural hair out and free, and legs squarely crossed, taking her place as she sees fit, looking directly at the viewer.

Odutola added: ‘This isn’t to say – yes, she belongs in this space, too, but rather – we all belong here, always have and always will.’ 

Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan said: ‘We are delighted to have commissioned this beautiful and monumental new portrait of one of the greatest literary voices of our time by one of the most innovative and exciting artists working today.

‘It also represents another significant step – among many more that are needed and planned over the next few years – in our ongoing commitment to increase both the representation of women and black sitters and artists within our collection.’

The gallery is currently closed for three years of redevelopment.

The painting will go on public display in the Brent Museum and Archive, in the area of north-west London where Smith grew up, later this year as part of Brent 2020, London Borough of Culture. 

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