National Portrait Gallery unveils new posthumous commission of Terry Higgins by Curtis Holder

Graham Robson June 10, 2023

Last month the National Portrait Gallery has announced its commission of a posthumous portrait of Terry Higgins, one of the first people in the UK to die of an AIDS related illness. Supported by Terrence Higgins Trust – the first charity in the UK to be set up in response to the HIV epidemic – this portrait is unveiled in their 40th year to mark what would have been Terry’s 78th birthday.

Terry Higgins – Three Ages of Terry (2023) is a posthumous portrait, drawn in coloured pencil by artist Curtis Holder. The multilayered drawing shows Terry Higgins as a teenager in the navy, a young man and a middle-aged man, in the weeks just before his death, with his moustache just visible. Delicately sketched, the most dominant portrait is at the centre.

This Terry gazes confidently at the viewer, with his past and future eyes softly drawn on his left and right sides. While Holder usually takes inspiration from the intimate conversations had with a sitter prior to making his portraits, this portrait was drawn from personal photographs and memories shared by his partner and one of the founding members of Terrence Higgins Trust, Rupert Whitaker OBE.

Terry Higgins – Three Ages of Terry by Curtis Holder (2023) © Curtis Holder.

The palette is limited to hues of mostly red, a reference to the now familiar and powerful symbol of the red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV.

Born on 10 June 1945, Terry Higgins left his Welsh hometown, Haverfordwestas a young man and moved to London. By day, he worked as a reporter in the House of Commons, and by night, he was a bartender and DJ. Higgins collapsed in Heaven nightclub in Soho while at work in 1982, and just a few months later, he died at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, on 4 July, aged 37. Established by Whitaker and Terry’s close friend Martyn Butler OBE, Terrence Higgins Trust has continually fought for change since Terry’s death – raising awareness of the virus and helping to destigmatise HIV.
This is the first portrait of Terry Higgins and the first work by Curtis Holder to enter the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. Terry Higgins – Three Ages of Terry will be displayed in the Making the Modern World gallery, a space dedicated to some the most important figures of the 20th century, from 22 June 2023.
Dr Nicholas CullinanDirector of National Portrait Gallery, said: “I am deeply moved by this portrait of Terry, which depicts him in all his gentleness and dignity. Thank you to Terrence Higgins Trust and Curtis Holder for making this beautiful portrait a reality, enabling us to tell Terry’s important story in our transformed Gallery. I very much look forward to sharing it with our visitors from 22 June.”
Curtis Holder, artist, added: “The drawing is a celebration of Terry; his humanity, physicality and sexuality. The time I spent with his partner Rupert gave me a real sense of those facets of him. I came appreciate the man behind the name; his passions, strengths and vulnerabilities became very real. I wanted this portrait to offer the viewer a snapshot of the stages of his short and impactful life, and to show how those individual stages informed the whole.”