My portrait ‘The Daughters of Colin Clark’ is a finalist in the 2017 Kilgour Prize. Here are some thoughts regarding its genesis and the painting that inspired it.

John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, oil on canvas, 221.93 x 222.57 cm

There is a remarkable portrait by John Singer Sargent of the four daughters of a friend of his, Edward Darley Boit, hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I have spent many hours studying reproductions of this painting – I find myself transfixed by it. The girls in Sargent’s painting are depicted as if interrupted at play; they have not had to suffer the indignity of being forced to pose in any formal way, in fact they are still wearing their play aprons, and the eldest sullenly refuses us the privilege of seeing her face. The oversized vases look almost comical amid this moment of childhood truth.

For some time this portrait has been a sort of touchstone for me. It demonstrates a perfection of the painting craft that I will always aspire to, but am convinced I will never reach – a realisation that gives me an inexplicable sense of joy. More recently the four girls in Sargent’s painting have suggested to me my own daughters, whose current ages nearly mirror the Boit girls in the painting, so this portrait seemed both inevitable and one whose time had come. I had the whole thing clearly in mind before I started it, and had only to execute it to have my very own version, albeit a smaller, slightly less psychologically thrilling one, with lower ceilings.

Ordinarily it hangs in our lounge room such that it depicts the precise scene in which it is hanging – and where, particularly if our girls happen to be sitting on the couch beneath it, it can have a startling effect on unsuspecting visitors. However, it will be going to Newcastle at the end of the month as it is a finalist in the Kilgour prize. The finalist’s exhibition hangs in the Newcastle Art Gallery from 5 August – 15 October.