Presidential portrait - Professor Sir Robert Lechler

The Academy celebrates the unveiling of the portrait of former President Professor Sir Robert Lechler FMedSci.

The full portrait can be viewed online as a high-resolution download here or from the side of this page.

Subject: Professor Sir Robert Lechler FMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences (2015-2020)

Artist: Paul Brason, former President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. His work is held in collections such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and the National Gallery of Scotland.

About the portrait

This portrait frames the dynamic Sir Robert with his own sketches from the tranquil Italian landscape around his family home. The painted postcard trompe-l'œil seemingly tucked into the frame depicts Sir Robert sketching the local church of Campello La Bianca, in a photograph taken by his wife Professor Giovanna Lombardi FMedSci. Giovanna and Robert are both Professors of Immunology at King’s College London.

Sir Robert comments: “Of all the roles that I’ve had in my life, being the President of the Academy of Medical Sciences is the one I have enjoyed the most. My career started as a junior doctor, just concentrating on saving lives, and then I moved into research, trying to improve how we treat patients, and then I moved into leadership to paint on a bigger canvas, and then national roles, and the canvas gets bigger still.

“But with all these roles comes pressure: to perform, to communicate, and never lose composure. Part of me relishes that, but there’s another side of me that is more introverted. I’m never more relaxed than when I am at home with Giovanna, in the farmhouse we restored in rural Umbria. It’s a very calm, restorative, even spiritual place. Only when I am sketching here do I become truly still.”

For this portrait, Paul Brason worked entirely through photographs and virtual sittings due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

“It was very much a pandemic portrait experience.” comments Sir Robert. “I had the chance to meet Paul a couple of times to get to know each other. Then the virus struck, and we never met again face-to-face. Paul got hold of photographs of me and videos of some of my talks, and this had to substitute for any sitting. I also will soon be receiving the pencil sketches that Paul made before committing paint to canvas, though I suspect that they will convince me that portraits are beyond my reach!”

“Robert is a very natural and able communicator,” added Paul, “and somehow more himself when animated. Consequently, when planning the portrait this idea informed my decision-making for his pose and it seemed very important to include his hands to demonstrate this.”

In parallel to the challenges for everyday life, the pandemic brings unprecedented challenges for medicine and research. But Sir Robert wants to emphasise instead the potential of this moment to reshape population health, how we treat diseases, and the healthcare system itself. To the ever-optimistic doctor and leader, it is always a privilege to serve.

The Academy of Medical Sciences works to promote biomedical and health research and its translation into patient benefit and public health gain. With his Presidency, Sir Robert championed leadership training, research in the NHS, and better healthcare policy.

The juxtaposition of the personal and professional in this portrait flows from the Academy’s #MedSciLife campaign, using commissioned photographic portraits and real-life stories to depict a life outside science as an integral part of being a researcher.

The painting is currently on display until 15 May 2021 for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters' Annual Exhibition at Mall Galleries, London SW1. The exhibition can also be viewed online through a virtual tour.