Portrait of Christ Church alum Jan Morris features in Bodleian exhibition 'The Full Picture'

Portrait of Jan MorrisA portrait of Christ Church alum Jan Morris has been included in the Bodleian’s exhibition ‘The full picture: Oxford in portraits’, which features more than 20 paintings, drawings, and photographs commissioned earlier this year as part of the Diversifying Portraiture project led by the University's Equality and Diversity Unit.

In its information about the exhibition, the Bodleian states, ‘Hundreds of portraits of exceptional individuals hang on the walls of the University of Oxford: shaping our past, making visible our values for the future, and helping shape the present environment. ‘The full picture: Oxford in portraits’ displays new portraits of a diverse range of people selected from over a hundred nominations of living Oxonians.’ The exhibition committee included Christ Church History of Art tutor and Junior Censor Professor Geraldine Johnson.

The portrait of Jan (pictured to the right) is by Luca Coles. Its caption describes her life and works, and ends, ‘despite facing public attacks as a trans woman, Morris has always, in the words of her friend Derek Johns, “gone wherever she pleased, and reported back on what the world is like”.

Jan Morris is a historian, author and travel writer, who was born James Humphrey Morris. As a child, James attended Christ Church Cathedral School, before joining the army at 17, being posted to Palestine, Venice and Trieste in 1946 with the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers. He joined Christ Church in 1949, studying English, after which he began an illustrious career in journalism, at the Times and the Manchester Guardian.

He secured two particularly significant scoops during his time in journalism. He accompanied Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their ascent of Everest in 1953, covering the expedition exclusively for the Times, and got the news of their success (delivered in a coded message) to London in time for it to be released on the day of the Queen’s coronation. Whilst in Cyprus covering the Suez Crisis for the Manchester Guardian he broke the news that the French and British were engaged in a covert attempt to invade Egypt under the pretence of maintaining peace between Egypt and Israel, after having made conversation with French pilots who revealed that they and the British were flying missions against Egyptian forces. After the printing of the story, the British and French withdrew their forces, and Anthony Eden (another Christ Church alumnus) later resigned as Prime Minister.

During the 1960s he began to write books, publishing a cultural history of Venice that would establish him as a major writer. In total Jan has published around 40 books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy on the history of the British Empire, and many others describing her extensive travels around the world.

One of her books, Conundrum, became a worldwide bestseller when it was published in 1974, and describes the process of her transitioning from male to female, including the beginnings of her medical transition in the 1960s, and her sex reassignment surgery in 1972.

She has received honorary doctorates from the University of Wales and the University of Glamorgan, is an honorary fellow of Christ Church, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She received the Glyndŵr Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Wales in 1996, and in 1999 accepted a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2005 she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for “a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature”, and in January 2008 the Times named her the 15th greatest British writer since the war. She has also featured in the Pinc List of leading Welsh LGBT figures.

You can find out more about Jan’s experiences as part of the expedition to Everest in an article based on a speech made by Jan in May 2013, which was published in Christ Church Matters 31.

The exhibition is running in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library until 7th January 2018. Admission is free and no booking is required. More information about the exhibition is available on the Bodleian Libraries’ website.