New portrait of DNA fingerprinting pioneer unveiled at University of Leicester

Posted by fi17 at Jul 03, 2012 10:36 AM |
Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, inventor of DNA fingerprinting, is immortalised on canvas by artist Tess Barnes
New portrait of DNA fingerprinting pioneer unveiled at University of Leicester

Professor Jeffreys and Tess Barnes with the completed portrait in the Department of Genetics

Photograph of Professor Jeffreys, Tess Barnes and the painting available from

A new portrait of renowned geneticist Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys has been unveiled in the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics. The portrait was painted by prominent artist Tess Barnes as part of a new collection entitled 'Drawn to Science'.

Professor Jeffreys is famous for inventing DNA fingerprinting in Leicester in 1984, and was approached by Ms Barnes to be a part of her new project, which features portraits of prominent scientists. Professor Jeffreys sat for six sessions with Ms Barnes in order to complete the preliminary sketches and the painting, which was unveiled in the Department of Genetics in May.

The portrait depicts Professor Jeffreys sitting in his lab, and Ms Barnes incorporated images from the professor's work and hobbies into the background. Ms Barnes said:

"Alec often showed me printouts of the work he was involved in, and I thought some of it should be added to the portrait. As we were chatting, he showed me some significant images such as the DNA fingerprinting discovery - so that had to be added as well!

"The pose came about as Alec was sitting, leaning slightly on his desk. He was explaining something fascinating to me, and saying 'well Tess it's like this' and demonstrating with his fingers. So I sketched them in like that.

"Alec sat for two 2-hour sittings for the initial drawing, then four 2-hour sittings for the oil painting. He seemed pretty anxious to begin with about spending so much time out of his lab, so I was delighted when he said the two hour sessions felt more like 15 minutes.

"He is such an easy-going and entertaining man, those two hours were so full of interesting and brilliant stories and insights. He was a wonderful sitter who kept me amused with the stories of his childhood escapades!"

Tess Barnes is a portrait artist who has painted and drawn such famous figures as Carol Vorderman, Beverley Knight, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, and Michael Portillo. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was Artist in Residence at the Royal Institution from July 2009 until July 2011.

In 2008 she launched a major solo exhibition entitled 'Women of Substance', featuring 50 portraits of famous and influential women. The success of that exhibition prompted her to consider a new project, focusing on prominent scientists, which led to the 'Drawn to Science' collection. In addition to Professor Jeffreys, she has painted Mark Walport, the UK’s next chief scientific adviser, Richard Dawkins and Nobel Prize winner Harry Kroto for the collection.

Professor Jeffreys invented DNA fingerprinting in his lab at the University of Leicester in 1984, in what he described as a 'eureka moment'. Looking at DNA samples of his lab technician and her parents, he suddenly realised that the human genetic code provided a way of uniquely identifying each individual - literally a genetic fingerprint. DNA fingerprinting is now used all over the world in criminal cases as well as paternity and immigration disputes.

Professor Jeffreys said: "It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to sit for Tess - she's not only a great portrait artist but also a delightful person and so enthusiastic about her own work and that of her sitters. I'm really pleased with the final result, capturing as it does my own somewhat chaotic character together with the various motifs that encapsulate my life and interests."

The portrait is 24" x 30" and painted in oils on a linen canvas.



For more information about the portrait, please contact Tess Barnes on

You can find out more about Tess Barnes’ portrait work on her website: 


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