Auction of portraits at Cavalry & Guards Club raises £41,000 for Veterans Aid

September 17, 2018
An auction of works by royal portrait artist Alexander Talbot Rice raised more than £41k on September 18th after an exclusive event at the Cavalry and Guards Club.

Following a private performance by the Mariinsky Ballet’s first British Principal Dancer, Xander Parish, partnered by Evgeniya Gonzalez, invited guests were invited to bid for works inspired by the artist’s time with the Mariinsky, in Russia.

Xander Parish who, like Evgeniya, made the journey from Russia especially to support the Veterans Aid gala event, said beforehand, “Alex is passionate about this and his enthusiasm runs off on and inspires me! It’s a huge privilege to be a small part of supporting such a truly worthy cause as we all owe our veterans a huge debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice which I greatly respect.”

The artist had pledged to donate 25% of all sales to the charity, an organisation whose passion and professionalism took him by surprise. He said, “I’ve seen several large charities at work and been struck by how impersonal they are. Veterans Aid is different. It’s like a family.”

The private view, auction and ballet was followed by dinner at the Cavalry and Guards Club.

CEO of Veterans Aid Dr Hugh Milroy said, “It was an unforgettable evening and I can only thank, once again, all involved: Alex, for choosing Veterans Aid to support in this special way; Xander and Evgeniya, for staging a performance that we will remember all our lives, auctioneer Jonathan Humbert, for his professional services on the night and – last but not least – The Cavalry and Guards Club for providing the perfect setting for this singular event. This money will help Veterans Aid transform lives.”



Alexander Talbot Rice’s artistic career has taken him from the drawing rooms of the British Royal Family to the earth floors of tribal elders tents in Afghanistan. In September he will be holding his first major exhibition at an exclusive private event, which will raise funds for Veterans Aid. 

He is one of the most sought-after painters of his generation and an ardent supporter of Veterans Aid. A selection of his works is to be auctioned at the Cavalry and Guards Club, to support the charity’s work.

Inspired by the famous Mariinsky Ballet, Alexander’s featured work will be brought to life through gala performance by Xander Parish, the Mariinsky’s first British Principal Dancer. Xander will dance the solo ‘Ballet 101’ and partner Evgeniya Gonzalez, also of the Mariinsky, in ‘The White Swan Adagio’ from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’.

The artist and the dancer met at the Savoy Hotel in London. Xander recalls, “We have a mutual friend who introduced us, who knew that I was the first Brit to be employed by the Mariinsky Theatre and Alex was the first Brit to have studied at the Repin Academy, also in St Petersburg, so we had much to talk about.

“I immediately became a great fan of Alex’s paintings and style and we immediately became friends. We have a lot in common and I’m a huge admirer of him as a person as well as an artist. His works are true and honest as he is, with depth, impeccable style and beauty. It’s a huge pleasure for me to work with Alex, not to mention and incredible honour. He is a great perfectionist in wanting everything to be just right, which I greatly appreciate as a ballet dancer where that same discipline is required in my work. He allows me to explain the correct lines and positions of the body to look good from a ballet perspective as well as an art perspective and that’s invaluable! I absolutely love the paintings he’s done of me and each time I see a new one I marvel at how he’s gone even further and bettered even his previous work!”

Xander’s respect for Alexander is part of the reason why he is making the journey from Russia especially to support the Veterans Aid gala event. “Alex is passionate about this and his enthusiasm runs off on and inspires me! It’s a huge privilege to be a small part of supporting such a truly worthy cause as we all owe our veterans a huge debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice which I greatly respect.”

With self-effacing charm Alexander explains why he feels ‘privileged’ to be involved with Veterans Aid, an organisation whose passion and professionalism took him by surprise: “I’ve seen several large charities at work and been struck by how impersonal they are. Veterans Aid is different. It’s like a family.”

Alexander was introduced to Veterans Aid by his brother, Major General Robert Talbot Rice. The family has a long and distinguished military history; not only Alexander’s brother but also his father and grandfather served in The Welsh Guards.

His ancestor, Godfrey Viscount Tredegar, took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade and Alexander grew up with Tredegar’s sword in his bedroom, dreaming from an early age about becoming a soldier. The fact that his career was to take a very different path was due in no small part to his education.

“At prep school I had a horrible English teacher, who made me stand at the blackboard in front of the class and spell out words. With each spelling mistake, she would whack the back of my legs with a long ruler. I clearly remember thinking how unfair it was that I had been born stupid but being determined I would deny her the satisfaction of seeing me fail.”

Fortunately he also benefitted from a wonderful Art teacher called Mrs Rothery: “She looked like a cartoon by Toulouse Lautrec and smoked cigars but she recognised talent in me and enabled me to enter Stowe School on a top art scholarship.”

Stowe’s first headmaster, JF Roxburgh said: “Any boy who studies at Stowe will know the meaning of beauty for the rest of his life.”

Alexander overcame his learning difficulties and went on to win both The Headmaster’s Prize for Success and Achievement and The David Sandhurst Prize for History.

Alexander then did an Officer Type pre-RCB selection called ‘Brigade Squad’ with the Welsh Guards, but sadly failed RCB. He then did a short course in Arabic at The University of Jordon in Amman, in order to gain a place at Durham University, to read first Arabic, then Politics Philosophy and History, in which he graduated in 2005.

“Even disappointments had their part to play in shaping me as an artist. Dyslexia taught me humility and the value of hard work. Brigade Squad taught me self-discipline and Durham University taught me that we can only really be fulfilled when we do what it is in our nature to do. So, when I left Durham with a degree, finally proving to myself that I was not completely stupid, I decided I was finally free to be an artist!”

It wasn’t a choice that his father embraced however. “I adored my father, but when I told him that I wanted to go to Florence to paint, he was concerned for me and tried to dissuade me. My cousin, Sir James Cazer, wrote: “Tell the boy to get a proper job!”

Alexander spent the next year working at estate agents John D Wood in Wandsworth and managed, with money his mother lent him, to put down a deposit on a flat which he bought for £60,000 and renovated in order to let, thereby providing himself with a small income, over and above his mortgage.

“Had it not been for my brother, I never would have got the kitchen in, the day before I was due to fly to Italy. He nearly electrocuted me, but I survived! My brother also bought my first painting.”

Equipped with this and an art scholarship Alexander headed for Italy, where he began his vocation, sleeping in the Anglican Church in Florence and walking to the Charles Cecil Studio every morning, for his drawing and painting classes.

“I clearly remember entering the studio for the first time; I was directed to an upright easel, one of many in a semicircle, around a buxom, beautiful and naked 17-year-old model, named Matilda. White limed paint peeled off the dark domed ceiling, which was dimly lit by North facing light. This cast beautiful cold shadows over her blushing bottom and I marvelled at the shadow of two thumbprints in her lower back . . . Sometimes words are two blunt an instrument to describe feelings. I can only convey these with a pencil or brush.”

By way of thanks for his accommodation, Alexander offered to create a monument to honour the men who died liberating Florence in the Second World War. This was made possible thanks to the support of Father Richard Major and Brigadier Christopher Thursday Pelham OBE (late Welsh Guards).

The monument was unveiled by the Bishop of Gibraltar, at a ceremony attended by members of the Welsh, Scots and Coldstream Guards; it also resulted in Alexander meeting Princess Giorgiana Corsini’s daughter, who invited him to become Artist in Residence at Palazzo Corsini.

Alexander then won a competition in Florence for The British Institute and was commissioned to paint Signorina Viva Ferragamo. As a result he was invited to study at The Florence Academy, which he did for two more years before hearing about perhaps the most famous Academy in the world – The Repin Academy, in St Petersburg.

The Repin Academy has an almost mythical status among artists because it has remained unchanged, since the Russian Revolution, continuing techniques and traditions that go back to the court of Catherine The Great.

Today the Repin is made up of different studios, each of which specialises in a different tradition of painting, including studios specialising in iconography, restoration, portraiture and sculpture.

Alexander was one of the first Westerners to study at the Repin Academy and became its first Honorary Professor, after painting HM The Queen in 2005.

These last, and arguably most unlikely, additions to Alexander’s portfolio came about almost accidentally, in the wake of a failed marriage, when he went to Afghanistan.

“After my divorce, I found peace and perspective in Afghanistan, as a guest of Rory Stuart’s charity, Turquoise Mountain Foundation, thanks to a good friend, Brigadier James Ellery. I then went on a rather eccentric journey over Northern Afghanistan on horseback and was stuck by the kindness and hospitality of the Afghan people. This led me to co-found, ‘The Afghan Rugby Federation’ with Masoor Majidi.”

When The Welsh Guards took a hit Alexander was later moved to do more. “They lost a lot of people serving in Afghanistan and a part of me felt unfulfilled – I wanted to do my bit.”

This ‘bit’ resulted in hostile environment training and becoming an embed in Helmand Province. During this period he produced a series of sketches of tribal warriors including The Governor of Helmand, Mohammad Gulab Mangal. Alexander had served in the TA while at university, but this period as an embedded artist was his first experience of life on deployed military operations.

To some people, artistic and military life are opposites, but Alexander presents another view.

“There is a rich tradition of artists, poets and soldiers. It’s only more recently that we’ve seen a perceived divergence between The Armed Forces and The Arts by the general public, who are badly informed. Since The Battle of Marathon, in 490BC, it has been understood that the best soldiers, are those who fight for love; love of country, family and the man fighting next to them. Likewise artists, dancers and writers must be brave, passionate and tenacious.”

Time spent in Afghanistan gave Alexander a unique insight into why we should be so proud of our Armed Forces. “No-one who has had such an insight can fail to see why Veterans Aid is so incredibly important. Through its ‘Welfare to Wellbeing’ programme Veterans Aid enables soldiers to find dignity and to make a positive contribution to society.”

“I am incredibly grateful to The Cavalry and Guards Club for agreeing to host my exhibition and gala ballet and also to Veterans Aid and Dr Hugh Milroy for making this possible. I would also like to take this opportunity of thanking Xander Parish for making all the work I have created over the last two years possible. I am proud to call him my friend and I am in awe of his talent.”

Will he have a little smile on his face when the artistic and the military come together in this place and in this way?

“Oh I think so – and I think my father would be really proud of it!”

CEO of Veterans Aid Dr Hugh Milroy said, “I still find it a bit surreal that a world famous artist and dancer are using their unique gifts to fundraise for us in this unusual way. Alexander and Xander are artists of renown and rare talent. The fact that Xander and Evgeniya have taken time out of busy schedules to support Alex is a measure of the respect they have for him and those who are lucky enough to have been invited to this special evening will be privileged to see not only a private view of some outstanding art, but also a performance that brings it to life.”

“Finally I must also thank The Cavalry and Guards Club for their support and for providing such a fitting venue for this wonderful event.”

Five of the 16 portraits featuring in the auction will be available ahead of the event. Anyone wishing to view the catalogue or bid for them can do so at Humbert & Ellis website. *The portrait entitled Ode to Joy has already been sold.