Hero, Humanitarian, Saint: Grosvenor Museum acquires portrait of Leonard Cheshire

Chester’s Grosvenor Museum has acquired a portrait of Leonard Cheshire, one of the city’s most distinguished sons. 

Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said:  “Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire VC OM DSO DFC was born in 1917 at 65 Hoole Road, Chester.  His portrait was presented to the museum by the Leonard Cheshire charity and its conservation has been funded by the Megan Gwynne-Jones Charitable Trust.  We are most grateful to both charities for their great generosity.”

Stephanie Nield, Archivist of the Leonard Cheshire charity, said:  “Leonard Cheshire became the youngest group captain in the Royal Air Force and the most highly decorated pilot of the Second World War, receiving the Victoria Cross.  In 1948 he took a dying man, who had nowhere else to go, into his home and, with no money, nursed the man himself.  This started a lifetime of humanitarian work supporting disabled people, promoting conflict resolution, fighting injustice, and working towards a society in which everyone is valued equally.

“In 1959 Leonard Cheshire married the humanitarian Sue Ryder and in 1991 was created a life peer in recognition of his charitable work.  He died the following year, and today the Leonard Cheshire charity, led by people with experience of disability, supports individuals to live, learn and work as independently as they choose, whatever their ability.  Received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1948, Leonard Cheshire is now being considered for canonisation as a saint.”

Clive Pointon, Chairman of the Megan Gwynne-Jones Charitable Trust and head of wills, trusts and tax at Chester law firm Aaron & Partners, said:  “The Trust is delighted to continue its support for the Grosvenor Museum by funding the conservation of this fine painting.  Leonard Cheshire was a Chester-born man of remarkable character and achievement, and I am confident that this handsome portrait of will be of considerable public interest.”

The portrait was painted in oil on canvas in 1990 by June Mendoza, who said:  “At a dinner I happened to be seated next to Leonard Cheshire.  I hadn’t met him before.  In comparison to the voluble guests around us he was almost taciturn, but my reaction was that I would love to paint this fascinating man.

“Extraordinarily it came to pass.  Out of the blue I was asked to do a portrait of Leonard for his Foundation.  During our sessions he was charming; we chatted, discussed, and occasionally he quietly meditated as I got on with my work.  We also had a gentle discussion about our relationships with religion – normally, with politics, subjects to be politely avoided.

“Of all the hundreds of portraits I must have done in my life, it is Leonard who has left behind such strong and special vibes.  There was this serene air of spirituality and strength that I remember well, and savour.”

June Medoza was born in Melbourne, Australia.  She realised that art was her calling at age 12, commenced life classes at 14, and portraiture eventually became her speciality.  Her commissions have included portraits of royalty (including Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother), religious leaders (including three Archbishops of Canterbury), politicians (including two Prime Ministers), judges, academics, musicians and military officers.  She is an Officer of the Order of Australia and of the Order of the British Empire, and a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.

The Grosvenor Museum is open Monday – Saturday 10.30-5 and Sunday 1-4, admission free, donations welcome. 

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