#PortraitsforNHSHeroes project gathers pace

Manchester Royal Infirmary Accident & Emergency nurse Harriet Durkin by Thomas Croft

Portraits for NHS Heroes is an art project launched in the UK by artist Thomas Croft – and it’s gathering pace, the idea now adopted in other countries, too.

Thomas, at a loss as to what to paint during Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown, put out an offer on Instagram earlier this month, saying he would paint a free portrait for the first National Health Service worker to reply.

This led to him painting a portrait in oils of Manchester Royal Infirmary Accident & Emergency nurse Harriet Durkin, wearing PPE, including a 3M face mask, a Guardian visor, gloves and a gown.

He gave the painting to her, but received so many requests that he eventually put 500 NHS workers in touch with professional artists, who volunteered to paint them, a project picked up by national media.

There are now well over one thousand #portraitsfornhsheroes related posts on Instagram alone.

“As a painter I am used to spending time working alone in my studio so assumed this wouldn’t be too much of a change to my normal routine, at least work wise,” Thomas notes on his web site.

“I like some background noise to work along to, so my brain is partially on the process of painting but with some white noise too to distract me partially from doubt, so I usually have the radio on. Unlike say Brexit, which totally dominated the news at the time, there were at least other news stories around and live sport and music etc to punctuate it.”

Not so the Coronavirus Pandemic, as we all know.

“This was one event though, globally, totally relentless, bleak, scary and completely tragic. If we were lucky enough to make it through the physical threat/dangers the economic impact would be devastating for everyone. I listened to too much rolling news to be healthy for me.

“I couldn’t find any focus in my work because frankly it seemed completely hopeless and pointless in the grand scheme of things,” he continues. “I did take some comfort though that I wasn’t alone – other artists I spoke to and followed on social media seemed to be struggling in the same way.

“So I thought about it. What is the point of a portrait? It is an artistic representation of somebody, in my case a painting or drawing. Ideally with a good physical likeness. Then if it’s a good portrait it can go further and say more than just a snapshot, or the fleeting moment when light was falling on someone at a particular moment. Done well it can be a more considered overview of them as a person and give a sense of the essence of who they really are. Character and personality can all be captured or referenced in a good portrait. No filters and often not smiling. In the past portraits have been seen as a status symbol, or produced to celebrate someone, mark some significant achievements, milestones and potentially to elevate that person in the eyes of others.

“It also immortalises people, as the portraits are likely to live far longer than the subjects.

“So who should be immortalised today? Who should line the walls of galleries and have future generations look back on as the people who really made a difference and stepped up, in our latest darkest hour. The people who put self interest and self preservation to one side and literally risked their lives knowingly on a daily basis for our well being.

“The NHS workers. Absolutely.

“So I posted on Instagram that I would like to paint a free portrait to the first NHS Key Worker to contact me. I also suggested that other portrait artists might like to offer one too. Artists were asked to post their portraits under the hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes so everyone could be seen online in a virtual exhibition.

Portrait by Jane French for the project, of Ronnie and his baby Ottilie.
Ronnie is an ICU doctor at Southampton Hospital
Lucy Child decided to try to draw a man whose story hit her hard. Thomas Harvey, 57, NHS nurse for over 20 years, husband, father of seven wonderful children was never taken to hospital and collapsed and died at home. “Such humanity in his face that I tried to capture,” she noted

“Then at the end of the pandemic, when restrictions are lifted and mass gatherings are allowed again, we could have a wonderful exhibition to celebrate and say thank you, to the heroes of the NHS. Hopefully this part will happen in time…”

Thomas says he has been overwhelmed with the response and moved by the messages from both NHS workers and artists alike.

“I have also been amazed at the quality of artists coming forward to offer their work for free as a thank you. It shows how indebted we know we all are to these NHS frontline workers. I am so pleased there are now similar initiatives based on this in Ireland, Spain, Belgium and America.

“… Thanks so much to all the lovely artists and NHS staff who have joined in with this project already, it’s been a pleasure to watch the results.”


If you’re an artist and would like to offer a free portrait to an NHS key worker then please post the green canvas from Thomas Croft’s Instagram @tomcroftartist on your social media, which includes the hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes, then an NHS worker can search for the hashtag, see your offer, and contact you directly to apply for a free portrait.

If you’re already working on art, simply grab and use Thomas Croft’s “red canvas” for the duration…


If you are an NHS frontline worker and would like to put yourself forward for the chance to get a free portrait, please look out for the green canvas by searching for the hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes on Instagram and message the artist. “There is obviously a limited amount of portrait artists out there,” Thomas cautions, “but it would be nice to reach as many people as possible”.

• Everyone should post their portraits under the hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes on Instagram or other social media platforms then we can all see them as an online exhibition

• Thomas Croft will update about a possible physical exhibition in the future, hopefully! Find out more about the project and his first portrait for NHS heroes here on his official web site

For latest updates and to find the red and green canvas images check Thomas Croft out here on Instagram

#portraitsforNHSheroes on Instagram

#portraitsforNHSheroes on Twitter

Categories: Art and Illustration, downthetubes News, Other Worlds


1 reply

  1. A friend has a friend who is a hairdresser by profession and amateur artist as a pastime. The artist is doing a portrait of Capt Tom Moore which she hopes to sell, the proceeds going to a charity involved in combating Covid-19.

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