• Search Icon
  • Toggle Menu
  • Close Menu

The Art

Search for information about all the works of art and craft we have donated to museums

Lockdown Portrait 19 (2021)

Gillian Wearing

watercolour on paper

Prints and Drawings Department, British Museum, London

Lockdown Portrait 19 (2021)

© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley Photo credit: Mark Blower



Drawing and Watercolour


Watercolour, Paper

Physical Object Description:

Portrait of the artist, half-length, with long dark hair wearing a dress with pink and green pattern. 2021 Watercolour. Signed and dated in pencil on verso


32 x 24 cm

Accession Number:



Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, with a contribution from the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, 2021/22

Ownership history:

Purchased from Maureen Paley by the Contemporary Art Society, with support from the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation (GBP), 22 January 2022; presented to the Prints and Drawings Department, British Museum, London, 2022


Self Portrait
During the lockdown enforced by the 2020-21 Covid pandemic Gillian Wearing turned to making a series of self-portraits. These were nearly all done in watercolour, although she also made a few in oils. Best known for her work exploring identity in film and photography since the early 1990s when she first came to prominence as one of the YBAs, the watercolours marked a new departure in her practice. Not since her first year as a student at Goldsmiths had she worked as a painter. As she explained: ‘We were taught to find a perfect medium for each idea you have, and so I went through a whole range of disciplines, from sculpture, photography, film, to performance, and never, until now, found a way back into oil and canvas. But the pandemic gave me the chance’. The restrictions on daily life imposed by lockdown became paradoxically a source of liberation. She has described picking up the brush and watercolour once more as a ‘bit like learning to drive again’ (quotations from her self-interview in Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks, by Jennifer Blessing and Nat Trotman, New York: Guggenheim, 2021, p. 107).

A group of her Lockdown portraits painted in 2020 were recently included in her major retrospective exhibition ‘Wearing Masks’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. This watercolour was produced during the 2021 lockdown. Here, she confronts us directly; her head is tilted slightly to the side, her lank hair falling in loose strands over her shoulders and house dress. She looks frankly dejected by the self-isolation and the sense of its unending boredom. Speaking of her Lockdown portraits, she has said: ‘I felt a need to do these paintings, and they ended up reflecting these times; they were about isolation, self-reflection, anxiety about the future, and being honest’. The British Museum was particularly keen to acquire this watercolour as an artistic response to the pandemic and its effects on the individual and the questioning of self-worth and sense of purpose that it provoked. It is her first watercolour to enter the collection.

This image may be shared and re-used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (CC BY-NC-ND). Any further use will need to be cleared directly with the rights holder.

Read our copyright policy for more information.

Artworks by Gillian Wearing

Browse more relevant artworks.

You Might Also Like