Sarah Raphael – a session with Bignell

The name of Sarah Raphael was familiar to me before I first looked at this week’s photographs but I have to admit I didn’t know a great deal about her. I had some inkling that she had died comparatively young but I don’t know where that came from. To summarise: she was born in 1960 and became known as a painter of portraits, landscapes and abstract pictures. She was married with three children. She died in 2001 aged 41. The people who have written about her including Clive James, William Boyd and her father Frederic Raphael agree that she was a significant artist. Had she lived we would know a lot more about her.

And at some point she met John Bignell. I’ve scanned a couple of regular sized prints from our Bignell collection but also isolated a few more from a contact sheet as I did once before with Regis de Bouvier de Cachard. This gives us a record of one photo session with Bignell. I don’t know if this was one of Bignell’s magazine or newspaper assignments or if she was one of his artistic acquaintances. (There were quite a few of those.) But they are fascinating pictures of an artist .

Sarah Raphael 01

There won’t be a lot of commentary from  me this week. Sometimes the pictures speak for themselves. Here she sits on a stool in an elegant room looking at one of her pictures.

There are some variants of this pose.

Sarah Raphael 01a

They seem to have tried out quite a few poses showing Ms Raphael at work, putting brush to canvas.

Sarah Raphael 03

In her studio (or just a pleasantly untidy room nearby).

Sarah Raphael 04

Sarah Raphael 3 from contact sheet - Copy

Using a mirror to create a picture within a picture effect.

Sarah Raphael 07

Or using the mirrors (and some plates?) as props.

Sarah Raphael 01c

Taking a break.

Sarah Raphael 09

If you’ve never encountered her work you can see in the photographs that the painting has a slightly surreal feel to it.

Sarah Raphael 02

See how that tower in the painting has moved from right to left as Bignell set up the shots.

I found some similar images in her illustrations to a book by her father, “The Hidden I” (Thames and Hudson 1990) which demonstrate the same qualities.

00002 - Copy

Perhaps Bignell was trying to capture some of the same playfulness in his pictures of the artist.

00001 - Copy

She was also influences by pop art and comics.

Strip Page 1


[Strip Page 1 and Page 5]

And could work in the space between landscape and abstract art as in one of her Australian paintings.

Gibber Desert Constellation II

[Gibber desert Constellation II]

But I promised as little commentary as possible, and no attempt at art criticism so let’s just remember a talented artist at work being photographed by a talented photographer.

Sarah Raphael 06


You can see more of Sarah Raphael’s work at

As hinted at last week I’m doing what you might call quirky posts at the moment. I did consider trying to assemble some of Bignell’s odder images into a post called Weird Bignell but I’ve already used some of the best. I also looked through the run of a short lived 1970s periodical called the Times of Chelsea for which he was the picture editor and got a few ideas for later. I never did find the reason for this particular session, but I’m glad to have found the pictures and been to use them on the blog.

It’s possibly not of general interest but the total number of page views on the blog recently passed three quarters of a million. I was quite pleased anyway.

Finally, after the recent sad news of the death of Muhammed Ali, here he is in a couple of Bignell pictures.

Mohammed Ali - Cassius Clay_jb_241

Mohammed Ali - Cassius Clay_jb_242

The Greatest of all time.

One response to “Sarah Raphael – a session with Bignell

  • Ruth

    She may have been using the mirrors to get a different perspective on her work, too. it’s amazing what you don’t see, but what shows up when you’re looking in a mirror. I’ve used the same technique to look at a room I’m familiar with so I can see it differently.

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