Tate Liverpool presents a Portrait of NHS Workers to Alder Hey

I’m interested in painting people who might not have entered the canon of art historical portraiture in the past” – Aliza Nisenbaum, Artist


Installation view of Aliza Nisenbaum ‘Team Time Storytelling’, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital Emergency Department, COVID Pandemic 2020 (Image Credit: Gareth Jones)

It can be tricky choosing a birthday gift for a septuagenarian but Tate Liverpool has come up with just the thing to mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS. The Gallery has presented a huge painting to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, depicting a group of its key workers during the Covid pandemic.   

The anniversary is a momentous occasion for the NHS but comes at a time when so much of the focus is on its ailing state. Despite all its problems and frustrations, however, polls show that 90 per cent of us are proud of the NHS and value its services. At no time in its history was this more evident than during the pandemic. It was clear from talking to the staff featured in the painting that its presence in the hospital is both an emotional link to the trauma of those years and an honour.

The painting is by Aliza Nisenbaum, a New York based artist best known for her bright, large-scale portraits of community groups. It shows an entire team from the Emergency Department at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The artist’s usual method of portrait painting is to spend a good amount of time with each sitter:

“I’m interested in what it means to sit silently, in a relaxed setting, chatting with someone while you go through a very slow process of looking and paying attention, then translating that to paint”.

But, of course, the pandemic meant she wasn’t able to come to the UK and so the conversations happened via Zoom. Far from regarding this as an obstacle, Nisenbaum felt it was an opportunity, seeing sitters in their homes instead of her studio: “It also allowed me to work with people that would not have had time to sit with me for four or five hours otherwise. You have to pay close attention to the subtle nuance of every little character in their face. I see these compositions as private places for dreaming, where figures become embraced by the spaces surrounding them”.

The title, Team Time Storytelling, refers to the regular reflective sessions the staff held during the pandemic, which focused on the mental health and wellbeing of medical teams in traumatic situations, as a means of sharing emotional responses to situations at work.

Aliza Nisenbaum speaking to one of her sitters (Image Credit: Ryan C. Spencer)

All those featured in the painting spoke of the level of trust and empathy that the artist established with them, even via Zoom. For this painting, Nisenbaum asked them to make a drawing about their workplace experiences during the pandemic and she has represented these in the group portrait. The task proved to be an emotional catalyst for Rose Floyd, a Play Specialist: “Mine became really complicated, incredibly emotional, everything we were going through in the pandemic just came pouring out. We were all so frightened and we had to make sure we didn’t pass that onto the children. I retire soon and being included in the painting and seeing it here in the hospital gives me a huge amount of pride”.

Jo Potier, Associate Director for Organisational Development & Consultant Psychologist, highlighted: “There was a lot of fear at the time we were talking to Aliza as the photos and Zoom calls were all taking place during the pandemic. My job was leading the wellbeing of staff, which was very tough as I was frightened myself. The Team Time sessions were a vital part of helping us to keep going because they helped make us feel safe”.

Leah Bradley, Clinical Practice Educator, admitted: “I got quite choked up when I saw the painting here. It represents such a tough time for all of us and to see the group there together as we couldn’t be during the pandemic is really emotional. It’s mind-blowing to think that when we look back at that time, we’ll be part of the history”.

The historic significance of the painting was also recognised by Louise Shepherd, CBE, Chief Executive of Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust: “Commissioning this portrait during the pandemic showed great foresight. It is an historic record of that time. The nurture and support of each other is beautifully encapsulated in this painting. It is a valuable reminder of the outstanding dedication of our staff during the recent pandemic”.

Kevin Henderson, a Porter at the hospital, is delighted the painting has, in one sense, come home: “My job is to transfer all the patients between departments, ward to ward. Some of the children are seriously injured, so we have to be very careful. It’s an honour to have been part of this project and to represent the hospital. It’s brilliant that the painting is here”.

Aliza Nisenbaum in her studio (Image Credits: Ryan C. Spencer)

Helen Legg, Director of Tate Liverpool, explained: “This is a rare example of an artwork from the national collection being on view to the public in a non-arts setting. It was originally one of 20 portraits commissioned by Tate Liverpool of NHS pandemic key workers and shown at the gallery in 2021. Seeing this one on display again is an acknowledgement of the value of our NHS as it celebrates its 75th anniversary and is a tribute to those who care for us”.

In a recent Financial Times review of Nisenbaum’s work, the journalist described how her paintings show that “trauma and beauty are not mutually exclusive”, that “she brings out the nobility of people who we might otherwise encounter only in brief impersonal transactions”. Nowhere are these qualities more powerfully combined than in this portrait of the Alder Hey staff.

Nisenbaum joined the unveiling by video link: “I was deeply moved by the stories of the key workers. I’m thrilled the painting is now hanging at the hospital with them”.


To see this beautiful painting in person, head to  Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Institute in the Park, Eaton Road, Liverpool, L12 2AP. 

To keep up to date with what Aliza’s up to, follow her on instagram here.

Aliza’s sitters were: Sarah Evans Jones, Jodie Walton, Lalith Wijedoru, Jo Potier de la Morandiere, Claire Jones, Kevin Henderson, Leah Bradley, Rose Floyd and Sue Dewsbury.

Most of all thank you NHS for 75 years.