Artist’s portrait of heroic soldier to go in museum

A portrait of an heroic soldier done by a Norfolk artist is to be hung at the Imperial War Museum.

Johnson Beharry was awarded the first Victoria Cross in 20 years after suffering serious head injuries rescuing his Army comrades from two ambushes in Iraq.

Images of him painted by Danny Keen, as part of his ongoing project to do portraits of notable fellow West Indians, will be part of a VC display at the museum.

Mr Keen, from Upper Gresham, has resurrected his painting, kindled as an art student in the 1960s, after a working career of more than 30 years in the catering business, when he ran the Alibi restaurant in Bethel Street, Norwich, the Buckinghamshire Arms at Blickling and De Lubeck restaurant at North Walsham.

Now he is doing his West Indian project as an interest. He had already painted boxer James Oyebola the former British heavyweight boxing champion who was shot dead at a London night club in 2007. And he would like to paint comic Lenny Henry, author Andrea Levy and jazz singer Dame Cleo Laine.

Mr Keen's daughter, who worked for the National Portrait Gallery, helped provide a contact for Lance Corporal Beharry, who was the subject of a commissioned portrait.

'She introduced me to Johnson and we got on well,' said Mr Keen.

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L/Cpl Beharry, from the 1st Battalion of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, found fame after his double dose of heroic exploits in Iraq during 2004.

On the first occasion May 1 the Warrior armoured vehicle driver came under rocket propelled grenade attack, damaging the periscope. So he had to stick his head through the hatch, while under fire, to steer the truck, and five other vehicles, to safety.

Just weeks later, on June 11, he was ambushed again, suffering severe injuries when a grenade exploded inches from his head – but managed to stay conscious until he once again got his vehicle and colleagues to safety.

He was awarded the VC in April 2005 and posed for Mr Keen in 2009 – a year before the soldier, still traumatised by the war, tried to kill himself by driving his car into a lamppost at 100mph.

Mr Keen said: 'He came and sat for me at my studio. He was a very nice and relaxed young man who was a pleasure to work with.

'He loves motor racing and I took pictures of him while he watched a Grand Prix on the television.'

He was pleased that his pictures would be appearing in the war museum, from November 15, where senior curator at the department of art Richard Slocombe said the Beharry portraits embodied a 'fresh and contemporary outlook, both in the field of portraiture and the portrayal of conflict.'