Rare Portrait of Roald Dahl, by Artist Matthew Smith, Displayed at National Portrait Gallery

Rare Portrait of Roald Dahl, by Artist Matthew Smith, Displayed at National Portrait Gallery

A rarely seen portrait of one of the world's most celebrated writers, Roald Dahl, painted when he was a young RAF pilot during the Second World War by Matthew Smith, has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery, it was announced today, Wednesday 6 August 2014. The portrait features in a new display bringing together, for the first time, the pioneering modernist work of painter Matthew Smith and sculptor Frank Dobson.

Painted in 1944, when Roald Dahl was in his late twenties and before he achieved international fame as a writer, this large, expressive and colourful portrait shows Dahl in his blue RAF uniform and leaning back in his chair with a solemn facial expression.

The portrait resulted from Dahl's admiration for Smith, whose work he had seen in a London gallery soon after his plane crash-landed in the Libyan desert and he was declared unfit for combat, forcing him to return to the City. Dahl tracked Smith to his home and made a powerful impression on the artist, who was living reclusively and grieving for his two sons who had both lost their lives in the RAF. Dahl and Smith became lasting friends and Smith had a great influence on Dahl's future life and career.

Roald Dahl grew up in Cardiff, the city in which he was born, and joined the RAF at the start of the Second World War. After being invalided home to London in 1941 due to serious injuries caused by his plane crash, Dahl was posted to Washington as assistant air attaché. Whilst there, Dahl was asked by the novelist C.S. Forester to write a number of RAF anecdotes to be used as propaganda. The account that Dahl wrote about his experience of the plane crash was so arresting that it was published in full in the SaturdayEvening Post, marking the accidental beginning of his career as a writer. Dahl is now considered to be one of the most celebrated storytellers across the globe, particularly known for his darkly humorous children's stories such as The Witches, Matilda, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach.