Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) later described his years at the Royal College of Music (1930–1932) as a student of John Ireland and Arthur Benjamin as forming part of his 'very, very difficult musical adolescence'. The photograph on which this posthumous portrait is based was taken in 1947, when Britten was also consolidating his place as the central figure in the revival of English opera, with works such as 'Peter Grimes', 'The Rape of Lucretia' and 'Albert Herring'.
Jeffrey Spedding has specialised in portraits of musicians, some – like this striking portrait of Britten – based on photographs. In this case the survival and rediscovery of the photograph, taken impromptu in a Copenhagen street by Frederick Vogt, was fortuitous: the artist Derek Hill found it in a junk shop there many years later. Fortunately he recognised its significance and it is now one of the most memorable images in the extensive iconography of the composer.