Michael Noakes was a celebrated portrait and landscape painter. Educated at Downside and the Royal Academy Schools, he painted most of the more senior members of the Royal Family. With some, he was commissioned on several occasions – and these include the Queen (with whom he spent more than twenty hours alone in sittings), Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales. He was commissioned to paint the Princess Royal six times and he also painted the Duke of Edinburgh (an image later used by the Duke on one of his book jackets), Princess Margaret, the Earl of Snowdon, the Duke and Duchess of York and the Duchess of Kent. He was the only painter to have been given time by Pope Benedict XVI for a portrait commissioned by and for the Vatican.
Noakes worked in the Oval Office on his portrait of President Clinton and he painted Margaret Thatcher several times, firstly for the Grocers’ Company during her final year in office as Prime Minister, as well as later for a large portrait commissioned by the Royal Hospital, Chelsea and for a portrait / construction exhibited at Christie’s throughout the extensive Lady Thatcher auction in December 2015. He painted Sir Dennis Thatcher, commissioned by Lady Thatcher for the family. After leaving office, Lady Thatcher often came to small dinner or lunch parties made up of maybe eight people with varied political outlooks, and with establishment figures as well as those from the arts, in Michael and Vivien Noakes’ home in Hamilton Terrace in St John’s Wood.
Shortly before his death, Michael Noakes completed portraits of Dame Judi Dench and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham which were exhibited at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in the Mall. Other recent portraits include Nobel prize-winner Sir Tim Hunt, Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg) and Sir Eric Anderson KT.
Leading figures in the past have included Sir Roger and Lady Bannister, Sir Alec Guinness, Archbishop Runcie, Lord Denning, Francis Pym as Foreign Secretary, Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop Fisher, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd when Speaker, Sir Donald Sinden, Robert Morley, Dame Margaret Rutherford, JB Priestley and two portraits of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. A related study of his portrait of Pope Benedict XVI is in Archbishop’s House, Westminster, a mark of the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom in 2010. Noakes also painted or drew domestic family portraits, often including children, or conversation pieces, sometimes set against landscape backgrounds.
Noakes’ portrayal of Frank Sinatra, for the record-sleeve of Portrait of Sinatra, was in the singer’s collection and Noakes was awarded a Platinum Disc for it. He is the only painter to have received this for work on a sleeve. A 1990 study by him of Margaret Thatcher when Prime Minister sold at a Conservative Party auction in February 2005, in aid of Party funds, for £440,000 (not at all an indication of Noakes’ normal fee). He designed the reverse of the £5 Crown Coin issued by the Royal Mint as a mark of the 50th birthday of the Prince of Wales and the work of the Prince’s Trust. He was also commissioned by the Royal Mint to design the obverse of the Commemorative Medal for the issue in 2002 to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. With the Queen’s personal agreement, throughout 1999 Michael Noakes made hundreds of drawings and paintings to illustrate a book, which was written by his wife (who died in 2011), Dr Vivien Noakes, DPhil, FRSL, The Daily Life of the Queen: An Artist’s Diary. They were given remarkable access, and at the insistence of the Queen’s Private Secretary, to promote its authority, the work was not subject to any Palace censorship. Commissioned by the Ebury Press (Random House), it covers the complete year up to and including the millennium celebrations – with original pictures on exhibition at Christie’s in 2000 and, with Golden Jubilee work, at the Mall Galleries in 2002 and the Tryon Galleries in 2003. The Isle of Man issued six stamps on a First Day Cover, all of images from the book. Two of his portraits – of the Queen and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – were personally chosen by Prince Charles to be displayed in the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in an exhibition to mark his 70th Birthday. The exhibition ran from 21st July until 30th September 2018.
Michael Noakes was commissioned as a National Serviceman. He was a Freeman of the City of London. He broadcast and televised widely on art subjects. He was a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, a Past-President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and a Past Chairman of the Contemporary Portrait Society. He exhibited widely. Four of his pictures are in the National Portrait Gallery Permanent Collection and others are in the collections of numerous academic, regimental and City organisations. His work is in the Personal Collection of the Queen as well as in the Royal Collection at Windsor, and in the Collection of the Prince of Wales, including studies of the Queen, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and of the Prince of Wales himself. Noakes’ pictures are also in the Collections of the Duke and Duchess of York, the House of Commons and the British Museum. A blue plaque, commemorating both Vivien Noakes and Michael Noakes, was unveiled by Sir David Attenborough on their old home and studio at 146 Hamilton Terrace, St John’s Wood, London in November 2011.
Noakes was a member of the Garrick Club.
Courtesy of the artist’s estate.