Sadie, by Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Zadie Smith. Image: National Portrait Gallery/Dominique Nabokov

Sadie, by Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Zadie Smith. Image: National Portrait Gallery/Dominique Nabokov

London's galleries and museums are beginning to re-open after lockdown, and there's a new portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery to go and see.

Zadie Smith now joins authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters and James Baldwin in having her portrait in the gallery's collection. The gallery commissioned Toyin Ojih Odutola to paint Smith's portrait, which Odutola has named Sadie, after Smith's real name. 

Both artist and author have admired one another's work for many years, and Smith said the work - and being the subject of it - was "incredible" in an interview with the gallery. The piece also has historic resonance: Smith's afro will be the first of its kind on a portait of a woman in the gallery, a fact the writer said she delighted in.

More broadly, Smith said the work held significance, knowing that Black children would be able to "look at images of black people that require no self harm to appreciate, and to which they can bring the questions and curiosities of art rather than the desperate enquiries of identification and projection (“Is that really how I am seen by others?”)",  which Smith said made her "so happy".

The portrait anticipates the release of Smith's next publication, Intimations, a collection of essays written during lockdown that examines and asks questions about humankind's response to crisis and suffering.

The National Portrait Gallery is currently closed for refurbishment, but you can look at Sadie online here.

  • Intimations

  • Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of essays on the experience of lockdown, by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time

    From the critically acclaimed author of Feel Free, Swing Time, White Teeth and many more

    'There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those - the year isn't half-way done. What I've tried to do is organize some of the feelings and thoughts that events, so far, have provoked in me, in those scraps of time the year itself has allowed. These are above all personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity.'

    Crafted with the sharp intelligence, wit and style that have won Zadie Smith millions of fans, and suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these unprecedented times, Intimations is a vital work of art, a gesture of connection and an act of love - an essential book in extraordinary times.

  • Buy the book

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