Quentin Crisp

a very singular and very good life model

By Kate Underwood


I have very vivid memories of Quentin Crisp , although of course we had no idea who he was at the time……just a very singular and very good life model! He was always very quiet , very reserved ,and the only thing he would ever say to us was  at the break, whilst resting in his dressing -gown: ‘If you go down & buy me a coffee , I’ll buy you one …. so he didn’t have to go downstairs to the Refectory or get dressed again !

Naked Civil Servant

Later, when I saw ‘ The Naked Civil Servant’ on T.V, in the court scene , I realised why …..his defence was, as an ‘effeminate homosexual’, that he had learned to ‘keep your head down , not speak to anyone unless you were spoken to,’ etc . , so as not to attract trouble. And so, even as far on as 1973-4 when he modelled for us at St . Albans School of Art , he was still doing this !

Hat and a silk scarf

He usually wore a rather chunky grey/brown Harris Tweed type suit , 2 or 3 piece , quite conservative & ‘country gentleman ‘ , with a large triby-type hat …..always a hat ……., and silk scarf . This tweedy suit was innocuous with his wavy permed hair that was a lavender hue ,his black eyeliner and pink pearly nail-varnish . Some of the boy students used to snigger at him behind his back , calling him ‘an old Queen ‘, and I thought they were unkind. I bet they are not sniggering now!

St Albans School of Art

He was a great life model , very flexible and able to hold a pose for ages . …especially when you think he was getting quite elderly even then! He wore a small posing -pouch and was very professional . Arnold Van Praag , our Fine Art tutor , sometimes got him to do ‘Classical ‘ poses , i.e . ‘the discus thrower ‘, with a prop discus…. and sometimes he made him do rapid poses with increasingly quick changes of pose, until we were just ‘capturing’ him in a wiggly line ! I still have some pencil life drawings I did of him  mouldering in the attic somewhere. I wish I could say they are worth a fortune now!!!!

Impending fame

I didn’t know of his impending fame until, in 1974 , I went to the annual Show at the Royal College, and said to one of the exhibitors , seeing her drawings ‘oh , you have the same model as us!’ She replied ‘yes , he’s getting quite famous now ….he’s written a book!’ So I sought out and bought ‘The Naked Civil Servant’, amazed ….and then was even more amazed to see it on t.v. and John Hurt’s remarkable portrayal of him.

This page was added on 18/01/2010.

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  • My partner’s sister, and one of my step-brothers both drew Quentin Crisp while studying at St Albans School of Art.
    I am still working on trying to find the connection between Quentin Crisp’s family and mine. He was born Denis Pratt in 1908 in Sutton, Surrey, and my Pratt family lived in nearby Croydon. (it’s where I was born!)
    My father once told me the story of a cousin of my grandfather who played the violin in Billy Cotton’s band, and how on one occasion my grandfather accompanied this cousin into London to visit a music store so that he could buy a new violin. I forget the cousin’s name, only that his surname was Phillips. I have discovered that Billy Cotton’s violinist was known as “Phil Phillips” and I have a picture of him. I see similarities in facial features between him and my father – and also similarities between Quentin Crisp and members of my Pratt family.
    I decided to look into the family of Quentin Crisp and have discovered that his mother’s maiden name was Phillips. I should like to have known this colourful character!

    By Lindsay nee Pratt (20/01/2021)
  • I too drew QC 1968-9 at Victoria St. He was hard to draw, as thin models are. My father (William Mills, painter) drew him when he was a student at Goldsmith’s – QC spanned several generations of art students! During my father’s era, QC was young, and wore stilettos…. which took a lot of courage then. Much later, when my dad worked as an art teacher, he used QC as a model for his own drawing classes.

    By Helen Mills (12/03/2019)