If you have the privilege of meeting Gloucestershire based artist Jeremy Houghton at one of his shows or at the Art Cotswold gallery in Chipping Campden, then you will find him easy on the eye and charming with it, exuding a warmth and generosity of spirit. His dark brown eyes are welcoming to all who meet him – it’s no wonder he was The Queen’s “favourite young artist” according to Prince Phillip.
I was fascinated to hear more about his roles as Artist in Residence for the Royals – at Highgrove for our now King Charles III in 2013 and subsequently, for The Queen at Windsor Castle in 2014. Now our Queen has sadly passed away, Jeremy must be one of the few, who have a real insight into her life behind the cameras and what she was really like. Jeremy shared a love of horses with the Queen and his equestrian paintings are exemplary.
Jeremy has also been the artist-in-residence for: London Fashion Week; Kamfer’s Dam in South Africa; the official artist for the London 2012 Olympic Games; Goodwood for The Duke of Richmond; Wimbledon Championships in 2017; and coming up for the British Army Ski Team in 2023, which sounds both exciting and action packed.
Houghton has a cheery disposition and a good sense of humour, so it’s easy to see why The Royal Family were happy for him to hang around their homes, whilst he painted scenes and portraits not only of the ceremonial sides of royal life, but also captured scenes from their more private lives. Once an artist really gets to know their subjects (even though they are officially the Queen or King’s ‘subject’) then this wealth of knowledge is expressed in their artwork. You can only paint a portrait of someone’s character when you really know them. These long periods of palace life are encapsulated in the snapshots that appear in Jeremy’s paintings.
Jeremy loves his job which is the secret to a happy and successful life. “There is no point waking up and hating your job, you must do a job that you love and don’t do it for the money” he told me. Agreed!
Houghton won all the art prizes as a boy at school, demonstrating his extreme talent at an early age. After graduating with a LLB Honours in Law from Exeter University, he sought to get a “proper job” because an impoverished artist was not deemed financially rewarding. However, Jeremy soon found himself teaching art in Cape Town for several years being the Head of Art at the International Art School there, and then he had the confidence to make his own way as an artist. He primarily paints with water colours and oils.
His career skyrocketed when he was commissioned to paint The Queen in 2009 as Artist in Residence, The Gentlemen at Arms Commission to paint HM the Queen. He exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in 2010, his solo exhibition called ‘Think Pink’. In 2013, Houghton was Artist in Residence at Highgrove resulting in his exhibition called 'A Portrait of Highgrove'. The monochromatic watercolours showed the farming communities and nature of Highgrove and Home Farm.
Jeremy’s latest exhibition, which I attended, in June 2022 for the Platinum Jubilee was entitled, “All the Queen’s Horses”. It displayed all his artwork capturing the Queen. The exhibition raised funds for charities such as Retraining of Racehorses, World Horse Welfare and The British Racing School. Not a painting was left without a little red dot sticker and there was a good crowd there that summer’s evening.
I met a man who had so many Jeremy Houghton paintings that his house ‘now looks like a gallery’. He is a particular fan of Jeremy’s flamingo paintings with beautiful pink and coral specks on the canvas, awash with colour.
My personal favourite Jeremy Houghton painting is slightly naughty and known as ‘Willie’s Corner’ but officially called “The Gents at the Gents”, showing the Queen’s bodyguards having a (what Americans call) ‘comfort break’. This was on the day of the 500th anniversary Queen’s centenary, moments before the Queen had presented the regiment with a new standard. This painting also greatly amused the journalist Quentin Letts, who wrote about it for the Daily Mail and covered the story with glee.
The guilty men shown left to right: Major Willie Peto, Lt Col Rory Ingleby-Mackenzie MBE, Col Sir Brian Bartelot Bt OBE, Col Peter Flach MBE, Major Oliver Howard and Major Charles Macfarlane.
Jeremy was allowed to follow the Queen’s bodyguards anywhere, and so when they required a pee, prior to the Queen’s inspection, Jeremy followed them with is pencil and pad. Jeremy let me into a small secret with this painting. ‘Do you notice the man on the end?’ he asked me.
‘His name is Willie and there were only five urinals, and six men, so no room for him. He pretended to pee – as you do – and that’s why it’s nicknamed Willie’s corner.’ Boys will be boys.
The Queen loved this painting so much, or else she wanted it out of the public domain, but Jeremy feels that it was the former – and it hangs in St. James’s Palace above the urinals. I would love to see the original but fear I will never be allowed in to see it! If you ever find yourself in St. James’s Palace and you are a male, then seek it out!
With the Queen’s death, Jeremy has been covered a lot in the press. He was recently interviewed with Gyles Brandreth and Baz Luhrmann (Director of Moulin Rouge and Elvis) on the One Show.
Jeremy was star struck “It was surreal, there was Baz Luhrmann sitting next to me in make-up and they were clipping his neat beard ever so preciously with nail scissors!”
I had some questions for Jeremy:
How were you asked to be an artist in residence? Do you receive a letter or something?
It's always different. In the case of Wimbledon, they contacted me directly. Prince Charles recommended me to his mother!
Tell me about Highgrove? Any fun stories?
I can tell you a fun story about Windsor instead! Whilst painting in the garden, I nipped behind a bush to answer the call of nature and thought nothing of it. But as I was leaving for the day, a policeman approached me and said, "Just to let you know Sir, we can see you everywhere on the estate."
Where did you stay in Windsor, did you have a flat in the castle?
I was based in the mews, but often stayed in London with friends.
Tell me something about the Queen that I don’t know? Tell me about a personal moment or a fond memory of her?
You might not know that she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of horses. A fond memory of her is when I was sketching in the grounds of the castle, in my own world, when suddenly I could sense the corgis sniffing around my feet and realised there had been an audience all along!
Have you always loved horses? Do you ride?
I grew up in the North Cotswolds with horses and ponies and learnt to ride at a young age. Now I'm just a full-time groom for my two daughters!
Who are your favourite artists?
I'm inspired by James Hart Dyke and David Tress. For a more contemporary inspiration I would have to go with James Turrell.
What would you say to the 2 girls who hurled Heinz tomato soup over the Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers?
I would say "Why attack art? Surely there are more relevant targets?"
What are you working on next?
I'm currently working on a very big 6m x 6m mural for a new hotel at Biggin Hill airport, followed by a series of paintings for the Lancers 100th anniversary.
I'm really excited about the gallery I've just opened - we've just celebrated six months since we opened Art Cotswold at 6 High Street, Chipping Campden. Our first exhibition ICON will be opening on 18th November until 16th December, featuring some iconic paintings of the Queen at Art Cotswold (www.artcotswold.com/exhibitions/icon-exhibition).