Tony Blair portrait unveiled at National Portrait Gallery
First painted portrait of former PM at gallery, by Alastair Adams, shows him in dramatic pose looking directly out.
As Labour’s longest-serving prime minister, Tony Blair was always peculiarly reluctant to sit for an official portrait, which is why it has taken this amount of time for the National Portrait Gallery to get its man.
On Friday it unveiled its first painted portrait of Blair, by the artist Alastair Adams, president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
Without a tie – naturally – Blair is shown in dramatic pose looking directly out. At 4ft by 3ft the painting is large. He really is looking at you.
Sarah Howgate, the NPG’s contemporary curator, said: “The direct gaze of the sitter is uncompromising but also reflects his considerable skill as a negotiator on the world stage.”
She said the gallery was representing Blair with a portrait “consonant with the personality of an individual who has considerably shaped the political, economic and cultural climate of Britain”.
The painting was started in the spring of 2011 with Blair first sitting for Adams at his home, South Pavilion in Wotton Underwood, in Buckinghamshire. After establishing the definitive pose Adams also used photographs to come up with the completed portrait.
As prime minister, Blair never minded photographs but said no to portrait artists. The first painted portrait he agreed to was one by Jonathan Yeo, which hangs in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn in London.
It fills a gap for the NPG, which has photographic portraits of Blair by seven photographers including Nick Danziger, Terry O’Neill, Gemma Levine and Eamonn McCabe.
The commission is in keeping with the NPG’s desire to acquire portraits of all former prime ministers. Gordon Brown, represented only in photographs, is still on the to-do list.