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National Portrait Gallery unveils painting of the man who solved mathematics' most famous problem
Sir Andrew Wiles by Rupert Alexander, 2015 © National Portrait Gallery, London.


LONDON.- A newly commissioned portrait of Sir Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who proved ‘Fermat’s last theorem’ after it had baffled scientists for centuries, has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery, it was announced today (Tuesday 14 July 2015.)

The four-by-three foot portrait is by London artist Rupert Alexander, who has painted the Queen and members of the Royal Family.

One of the five sittings for the painting, in oil on canvas, took place at Merton College, University of Oxford, where Sir Andrew is Royal Society Research Professor, specialising in number theory. The other four took place at the artist’s London studio.

‘Using a palette of blues and greens,’ says Rosie Broadley, Associate Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London, ‘Rupert Alexander has achieved a nocturnal and ethereal effect that he felt was appropriate for his sitter’s important yet esoteric achievement’.

The mathematician Andrew Wiles studied mathematics at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. His work caught the public imagination in 1993 when he announced a proof for a celebrated problem that had baffled mathematicians for centuries, known as ‘Fermat’s last theorem’. In the seventeenth-century, the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat wrote in a margin of a text book that he had solved an important problem. The note was not found until after his death, and he had left no proof. The idea captivated Wiles as a child, but it was not until 1995 that Wiles published the proof in the form of sophisticated algebraic geometry in the Annals of Mathematics.

Wiles was awarded the Wolfskehl Prize, which had been set up in 1905 for solving precisely this problem, and numerous international prizes including the Shaw Prize, the Royal Society’s Royal Medal and a unique Silver Plaque by the International Mathematical Union, the first and only time the Union has bestowed this honour. He has taught at Harvard and Princeton Universities in the United States and is currently Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford, specialising in number theory. He was knighted in 2000.

Born in London in 1975, Rupert Alexander studied at Chelsea College of Art, The Florence Academy of Art and Charles H. Cecil Studios. He has painted the portraits of many prominent figures in Britain. At the age of 23, he painted HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, becoming the youngest artist to paint the British Royal Family since the Eighteenth Century. His portrait of the Queen in particular garnered widespread press attention and critical acclaim, and his work hangs in public and private collections worldwide.

Artist Rupert Alexander says: ‘I wanted to convey the cerebral world Sir Andrew inhabits, but rather than doing so by furnishing the composition with books or the obligatory blackboard of equations, I tried to imply it simply through the light and atmosphere. Mathematics appears to me an austere discipline, so casting him in a cool, blue light seemed apt.’

Sir Andrew Wiles by Rupert Alexander is on display in Room 38 at the National Portrait Gallery from Tuesday 14 July, Admission free.





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