‘She captures the concentration of the runner and the poise of the gymnast’

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Most people going to a sports club take some sort of equipment with them – but not many have a sketchpad or easel in their bag.

In the run-up to the Olympics, artist Sarah Butterfield has travelled across the country to draw and paint sportsmen and women in action, from swimmers, divers, sailors and rowers to athletes, gymnasts and tennis, badminton and volleyball players.

ARTIST Sarah Butterfield

ARTIST Sarah Butterfield

The result is Visions of Gold 2012, an exhibition that celebrates the endeavour of all those involved in sport, from Olympic level right down to grass roots.

Sarah, the wife of Havant MP and government minister David Willetts, specialises in landscapes. But she has always had a keen interest in sport, playing tennis in her younger days and still running regularly today.

The London gallery Frost & Reed asked Sarah to do some paintings with an Olympic theme, so she sought inspiration by getting up close to sportsmen and women and watching their movements.

Four of the collection of more than 30 paintings were based on visits to sports clubs in the Portsmouth area – badminton at Havant Leisure Centre, tennis at The Avenue club in Havant, sailing at Emsworth Sailing Club and gymnastics at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth.

Sarah says of the exhibition: ‘It’s a dream come true because Frost & Reed is more than 200 years old and doesn’t take too many contemporary artists.

‘I was talking with them about sports in general and I said I’d sold a painting to the tennis player David Lloyd when I was an art student. I’d also painted a game of doubles, which is now in the Wimbledon Museum. It was then that the gallery asked me to paint something for the Olympics.’

Sarah adds: ‘My father played lots of sports and he always encouraged me from a young age to play them. Exercise is incredibly important and in sport you learn so much by taking part.

‘I learned about performance, about managing defeat and thinking things through carefully.’

Sarah says she was originally asked to do six paintings, but this grew five-fold.

‘I thought ‘‘Oh my God, there’s very little time and I’ve got to create all these paintings’’. But one of the curators was wonderful. She said ‘‘Sarah, you can do this’’.

‘The people in this area were wonderful too. I had to visit places because it was no good trying to use photographs. You don’t get a real feel for the sports.’

She was particularly worried that she would be getting in the way as people played. But everybody was very helpful and she now hopes the paintings will offer something lasting after the Olympics have finished.

A coup for Sarah was getting Olympics supremo Lord Coe to write in the exhibition brochure.

She says; ‘That was absolutely wonderful. He bought one of my paintings earlier this year and I had to drop it off at the Olympic offices.

‘When the idea for the exhibition began, I thought I might be able to ask him to write the foreword. It’s amazing for him to do it considering it’s an extremely busy time at the moment!’

Lord Coe says: ‘Sarah is passionate about painting and capturing light and colour. This exhibition unites painting and sport as an artistic celebration of the spirit of the Olympic endeavour.

‘She captures the concentration of the runner, the poise of the gymnast, the skill of the tennis player and the raw excitement of the Olympics.’


Visions of Gold 2012 is at the Frost & Reed gallery, 6 Duke Street, St James’s, London from July 16-August 12. Entry is free and the exhibition is open on weekdays from 9am to 6pm, Saturdays 11am to 4pm and Sundays 12pm to 4pm. Sarah is giving a painting demonstration at the exhibition on Thursday, July 19 at 12.30pm.