Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation

Marking the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush to British shores in 1948, His Majesty The King has commissioned ten leading artists, from Britain and abroad, to create portraits of ten pioneering members of the Windrush Generation.

Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation

The Exhibition

The portraits will become part of the Royal Collection and stand as a lasting memorial to all the men, women and children who came to Britain from the Caribbean and gave so much of themselves to rebuild a nation devasted by war.

It is, I believe, crucially important that we should truly see and hear these pioneers who stepped off the Empire Windrush at Tilbury in June 1948 - only a few months before I was born -  and those who followed over the decades, to recognise and celebrate the immeasurable difference that they, their children and their grandchildren have made to this country.

His Majesty The King

The sitters, selected from across the UK, have been chosen by The Windrush Portraits Committee, a sub-committee of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, comprising Baroness Floella Benjamin, the Right Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Mr Rudolph Walker and Ms Paulette Simpson. The portraits were undertaken by Black artists personally selected by His Majesty. 

The sitters and artists are:

  • Delisser Bernard painted by Honor Titus
  • Alford Gardner painted by Chloe Cox
  • Linda Haye painted by Shannon Bono
  • Edna Henry painted by Amy Sherald
  • Carmen Munroe painted by Sonia Boyce
  • Gilda Oliver painted by Clifton Powell
  • Sir Geoff Palmer painted by Derek Fordjour
  • Laceta Reid painted by Serge Attukwei Clottey
  • ‘Big’ John Richards painted by Deanio X
  • Jessie Stephens painted by Sahara Longe
The King and Queen with artists and sitters

These early pioneers, who left their homelands and all that was familiar to them, and the generations who followed them worked hard to rebuild a country emerging from the ravages of the Second World War and were key to the development of essential infrastructure, including health and transport services. These remarkable people, who showed resilience and pride throughout their lives, represent the positive impact of diversity across Britain.

In 1998 His Majesty, as Prince of Wales, led the way during national Windrush celebrations by hosting a reception in the State Apartments at St James’s Palace to mark the 50th anniversary of Windrush. His Majesty (then HRH) believed it was important to mark the contribution made by the Windrush Generation to British society.

In his speech on that occasion, The former Prince of Wales said, “I attach huge importance to the distinctive contribution which you, your families and the wider black community make to British life”.

In 2020, His Majesty, as Prince of Wales sent a message of thanks to Britain’s Caribbean community on Windrush Day:

The ten portraits will go on display in an exhibition entitled 'Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation' at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh from 22nd June to mid-September 2023 and the National Portrait Gallery, London in October 2023 for approximately six months. More information can be found here.

Reception at Buckingham Palace

One week ahead of Windrush Day, The King and Queen hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace in celebration of the Windrush Generation in this the 75th anniversary since the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. 

The King unveils 'Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation'

During the Reception, Their Majesties unveiled the ten portraits of Windrush elders, newly commissioned by The King, in the presence of the sitters, their families and the artists.

BBC Arts Documentary

On 6th June 2023, BBC Arts announced a 75-minute documentary to commemorate National Windrush Day, entitled ‘Windrush: Portraits of a Generation’.

The King appears in BBC documentary, 'Windrush: Portraits of a Generation'

Throughout the programme, audiences will hear first hand testimony from the Windrush sitters, many of whom are in their 90s, as they speak frankly about their experiences of arriving in Britain; making lives for themselves and the overwhelming contribution they have made to their communities, and the nation as a whole.

The film also follows the making of the portraits, as artist and sitter come together, with the artists reflecting on their own experience of undertaking this special commission.

The documentary Windrush: Portraits of a Generation will be broadcast on BBC Two and available on iPlayer to commemorate National Windrush Day on 22 June 2023.

Windrush Service at St George's Chapel, Windsor

This morning, The King joined over 300 young people from schools across England, The Prince’s Trust, the Prince’s Foundation, Project Zero and the Amos bursary to recognise and celebrate the 75th anniversary of Windrush at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

The King at a Windrush Service

Talented students from the Royal Drawing School were also in attendance to put pencil to paper to capture the service.

During the service, a choir from St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls sung, as well as a performance from Jermaine Jackson, and poetry was recited by schoolchildren.

The King attends a Windrush Service

Following the service, His Majesty met members of the congregation including Baroness Valerie Amos, Baroness Floella Benjamin and Executive Director of The Voice, Paulette Simpson. 

The King with Baroness Floella Benjamin

Windrush Education Programme

Royal Collection Trust and Royal Drawing School are collaborating to develop and deliver an education programme to accompany the ‘Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation’ exhibition.

The programme aims to educate and inspire young people, promote conversation, and dialogue, and bring together communities and generations to explore and celebrate the contribution made by the Windrush Generation.

The Royal Drawing School will deliver free drawing workshops aimed at ages 12-18, both in person and online, to coincide with the exhibition. The workshops will explore the living history of the Windrush Generation through drawing and aural history.

Royal Collection Trust will collaborate with the Royal Drawing School to develop Teacher’s Packs, including resources and lesson plans. These free materials will be available online from the RCT and RDS websites, ensuring an ongoing dialogue and celebration of the Windrush community, beyond the 75th anniversary.

Further details to be announced.

Previous portrait commissions by The King

In 2010, His Majesty, as Prince of Wales, commissioned the Royal Drawing School to paint 15 portraits of surviving servicemen to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. In 2015, he commissioned 12 portraits of D-Day Veterans.

The Last of the Tide exhibition

This latter exhibition, “Last of the Tides”, marked the 71st anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Explore the portraits on Google Arts and Culture.

In 2021, His Majesty, as Prince of Wales, commissioned seven portraits of Holocaust Survivors, and a BBC documentary, ‘Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust’ was made to accompany that commission.

Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust

Read more about the exhibition.

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