It was the worst day of their lives.
That was the sense of emotional and professional disaster for Goldsmiths Art School alumni Graham and Kathleen Sutherland in 1954.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill had sent round his official limousine with a letter furiously rejecting the portrait of him that Graham had been commissioned by Parliament to paint.
Winston had thundered:
“…there will be an acute difference of opinion about this portrait…it will bring an element of controversy into a function that was intended to be a matter of agreement between the Members of the House of Commons where I have lived my life … the painting, however masterly in execution, is not suitable…”
This was Parliament’s gift to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Britain’s war-time leader between 1940 and 1945.
Its unveiling a few days later in Westminster Hall would be another catastrophic humiliation for the Sutherlands; this time played out live on BBC television and reported in newsreel cinemas.
The irascible statesman, having been persuaded to avoid publicly rejecting the gift, used sarcasm to twist the knife into the portraitist he believed had made him look like a decrepit old man:
“…the portrait [turning to look at it] is a remarkable example of modern art. [Haughty laughter as well as applause] It certainly combines force and candour. These are qualities which no active member of either House can do without or should fear to meet.”