Sarah Raphael was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, the daughter to Frederic Raphael, the screenwriter, novelist and journalist. Following her education at Bedales School, she enrolled at Camberwell School of Art in London at the age of 16, graduating with First-class Honours in 1981. Her career as a painter began with portraits which showed the marked influence of Lucian Freud. Her first major solo exhibition was at Agnew’s in 1989 although she first came to the public’s attention in 1992 when an early portrait was shown at the National Portrait Gallery. During the 1990s she was awarded the Villiers David Prize, the Nat West Painting Prize and she moved on to painting landscapes, inspired by a six-week visit to Australia. This work was shown at her exhibition, Desert Paintings, at Agnew’s and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. In 1997, her solo exhibition STRIP! at Marlborough Fine Art displayed a complete departure into a world of abstraction, using a collage-like assemblage of coloured shapes and invented objects. Her solo exhibition of 2000, Small Objects in Transit at Marlborough Graphics in London was a collection of etchings and monotypes which related to the STRIP! paintings.
Although initially noted for her portraits, Raphael’s work became more notably abstract over time, a process that can be witnessed in her work which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, London’s National Portrait Gallery and in several large corporate collections.