Matthew Parris is a well-known, often infuriating and always readable British journalist. He’s almost always at his best when he writes about his former employer, Mrs. Thatcher (see if you can find Return of the Mummy, a laugh aloud funny piece he wrote at the time of the last British election). Now here he is in the London Spectator on a new exhibition devoted to artworks depicting Mrs. T:
“Paul Graham’s giant photograph, entitled ‘8 April, 2002’ is stunning. The portrait is about ten feet high and twice as high as wide, but most of it is black. Lady Thatcher occupies only the lower part of the composition, whose bottom frame chops her off so that only head and torso appear: she has obviously been snapped while walking, and snapped unawares, for she is not looking at us. She is wearing black — uncharacteristically, but this was around the time of the late Queen Mother’s death. The overwhelming colour is black, but her face is pale and has the soft, delicate paperiness of old age. She looks a little stooped. Her glance gives little away beyond exhaustion — and inner strength. The portrait has a sadness about it, but it is not demeaning and she is not undignified. In a way, this is a picture of a magnificent ruin.
The viewer has absolutely no clue as to what she is thinking, what she is remembering, or whether she is thinking or remembering at all. Her expression is inscrutable — or empty.
If I had £10,000 I would buy this picture, but, as it was, I could only stand and stare. It is the best and perhaps the last study of Margaret Thatcher as former empress that will ever appear. In time it will become a feature of books and articles illustrating her later years, and for as long as she is remembered it will be associated with her.
And what is so very poignant is that, were she to visit the exhibition, that photograph would say nothing to her. ‘Well, dear,’ she would say. ‘I don’t much care for that. No colour. Perfectly miserable. Makes me look a wreck. And where are my legs? He pointed the camera wrong. Why didn’t he ask me to pose?’
And she would move on, reaching, perhaps, for a giant handkerchief with which to cover some of the smaller exhibits.”