The Nearest Guard: A Portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Rory Ingleby-Mackenzie

Portrait of Rory Ingleby-Mackenzie by Michael Alford

Michael Alford discusses a recent commission for a portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Rory Ingleby-Mackenzie.


Who is this portrait of?
Lieutenant Colonel Rory Ingleby-Mackenzie. After serving in the Scots Guards, he served as commanding officer of His Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms until the end of 2023.

They’ve been in existence since 1509, established by Henry VIII. With the Yoeman of the Guard and Beefeaters they form the Sovereign’s personal bodyguard.

They take part in important ceremonies involving the monarch and are easy to recognize by their helmets decked with drooping white swan’s feathers. In recent years, they’ve been busy with the Platinum Jubilee, the Queen’s funeral and the Coronation.

Why did he commission this portrait now?
Rory retired at the end of 2023. He wanted to commemorate his time as commanding officer.

What was your brief?
To paint a portrait of Rory in full regalia, including the distinctive swan-plume helmet, ceremonial sword and dress uniform, along with the Sovereign’s standard. An important part of Rory’s role was to carry this tall standard, which bears the motto, “the nearest guard”.

Learn more about commissioning a painting with Michael Alford.

How did you begin?
Rory and I had a couple of meetings during which we worked out an approach together. His elaborate uniform was always going to be an important visual factor and so at our first meeting we went to look at it at Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row.

This was fascinating. Gieves & Hawkes maintain many of the ceremonial military uniforms in a collection kept in a special room and curated by their military manager, Jules Walker, and an impressive team of experts. Some of the uniforms go back many years and you can imagine there is lots of maintenance involved.

What else did you do in preparation?
Rory and I also did a reconnaissance of St James’s Palace, the headquarters of the Gentlemen at Arms. We agreed that the atmosphere there felt right for the portrait and the light was good, so we decided to do the sitting there.

Our second meeting was a proper sitting in St James’s Palace. It involved more logistics, because the uniform had to be transported by taxi from Gieves & Hawkes.

Once Rory had it on, we tried out various poses and I took photographs, as I usually do. I also did some quick sketches to aid my memory and help me work out the composition.

What decisions did you have to make as you painted the portrait?
I wanted to capture an image of Rory in uniform that didn’t look too formal. The uniform is of course a major element of any military portrait, so getting the details right—the buttons, epaulettes, frogging, embroidery, helmet, plumes, sashes—is important.

But the most important thing is always the subject. My goal was to create a lively portrait of Rory in a relaxed but dignified pose, not standing to attention, but not slouching either, like Andrew Parker Bowles in the portrait by Freud. Not that the uniform allows much slouching!

It’s sometimes a stretch to achieve this when there’s so much else going on in the visual frame. It’s also a challenge to work with so much scarlet in the palette. It’s such a dominant colour that getting the right balance in the picture overall can be tricky.

This is has often been an issue for painters doing military portraits. In his portrait of Colonel Ian Hamilton, for example, Sargent minimizes the impact of all that bright red by putting his subject in a dark greatcoat that conceals two-thirds of his uniform. It’s a brilliant solution.

What did you enjoy most about this commission?
It was fun to do from start to finish. Rory was pleasant to work with and knew his mind. I very much enjoyed seeing the clothing collection at Gieves & Hawkes. And it’s not often I get the opportunity to paint something as flamboyant and dashing as the Gentlemen at Arms’ splendid uniform. That’s my idea of a good time.

About the Uniform

“The uniform is that of a Heavy Dragoon Guards officer of the 1840s. It has a skirted red coat with Garter blue velvet cuffs and facings embroidered with the Tudor royal badge of the Portcullis. Helmets with white swan feather plumes are worn when on duty, even in church.

Officers wear gold aiguillettes and carry sticks of office which they receive from the Sovereign on appointment. Cavalry swords are worn, and long ceremonial battle-axes, over 300 years old, are carried by all the Gentlemen.” 

Royal Family Website

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