Friday, December 20, 2013

National Gallery hangs new Tony Blair portrait

A new portrait of ex Prime Minister Tony Blair by artist Alastair Adams, President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, has been unveiled by The National Portrait Gallery, London.

NPG 6974: Anthonly Charles Lynton ('Tony') Blair (b.1953)
by Alastair Adams PRP (b.1969), 2013

Oil on board, 1221 x 920mm (48 1/8 x 36 1/4 ins)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
The portrait was commissioned by the NPG and follows the tradition that the Gallery should have a portrait of every Prime Minister.   I guess my only surprise is why this hasn't happened sooner - but I guess it must have been pretty difficult to pin him down to do the sittings.

I've not seen it yet but first impressions suggest it's an excellent portrait.  The pose is of a very direct "look you in the eyes" view which is very characteristic of the man himself.  It's also nice to see a portrait which is not too formal.

The four foot by three foot painting of Tony Blair by Alastair Adams is in Room 37 in the Ground Floor Lerner Contemporary Galleries at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from Friday 20 December, Admission Free.

Tony Blair has the unique distinction of being the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister and, to date, the youngest to take up office since 1812.  He led the Labour Party to victory in three General Elections before his resignation in 2007.

Alastair Adams (b. 1969) was elected a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 2002.  In 2005 became the Society’s Treasurer. In 2008 he was made President, the youngest in the Society’s 122 year history.  He developed his interest in figurative and portrait painting which training as an illustrator. Since 1995 he has produced portraits of many notable subjects, though his approach is always the same. 
I believe in creating natural, unassuming paintings based on an incisive, observational drawing practice’.
He began the process of painting a portrait of Tony Blair in the spring of 2011. The first sittings took place at Tony Blair’s home, South Pavilion in Wotton Underwood, in Buckinghamshire - which used to be home to John Gielgud. He initially worked on sketches to establish a definitive pose. He next developed several portraits in oils and in graphite - working from life and using photographs for reference - before arriving at the one which has now taken its place in the Gallery.

For those interested in portraiture, Adams also holds a research based lecturing position at Loughborough University, practicing portraiture and publishing papers that examine commissioned portraiture, life drawing within a modern educational context, drawing and visualisation and facial difference. He is also a Co-Director of the contemporary drawing research group and journal, TRACEY.

Anybody wishing to see more of Alastair's work can do so via his web site or via his page on the Royal Society of Portrait Painters website.


  1. seems to capture him perfectly- never liked the man to be honest. There is a nastiness about him that the artist seems to have captured very well. Those glaring eyes!

  2. From the Independent

    "a dramatic close-up of Mr Blair who is remembered for transforming the Labour Party, initiating vast public sector reform, negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and taking the country into bloody conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."

  3. From The Guardian

    "Without a tie – naturally – Blair is shown in dramatic pose looking directly at the viewer. 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."

  4. This is not the first portrait of Blair to be painted.

    This is the Daily Mail on the portrait commissioned by the House of Commons for the parliamentary art collection and unveiled in 2008.

    The work was painted by former U.S. comic-book illustrator Phil Hale who the Daily Mail characterise as "a prizewinning artist and highly regarded National Portrait Gallery exhibitor."

    The Daily Mail commented as follows

    It is entirely convincing, if unexciting. Sadly Blair looks to have assumed the dull, unrevealing look of concentration many adopt when sitting for a portrait.
    This kills any work stone dead. It is not revealing of his state of mind though the sombreness and the concentration may perhaps signify disappointment.

    Sadly it would appear no portrait artist ever has a chance of producing a portrait without everybody else thinking they know how it could have been painted better.

    Having read some of the newspaper comments from the public I'm reminded of some of the very cruel comments about the Duchess of Cambridge's portrait. I'm now beginning to wonder whether passing cruel comments on a portrait and/or a sitter and/or portrait artist is some new form of 'national sport'.

    What does that say about us as a nation?

    Let's not forget the comment usually says far more about the person who comments than it ever does about the portrait.

  5. Hi Katherine, you may have thought from my comment that I didn't like the portrait, complete opposite actually. It isn't the standard fair of official portraits and captures an essence of Tony Blair that is only just below the surface that I personally feel. The other odd thing about the portrait are the teeth, for some reason that always has a odd effect on a portrait, so maybe a combination of the teeth and glare of the eyes I am responding plus, of course, my own feeling about him.

    I also liked the other painting you linked to as it does seem to convey a feeling of 'where did it all go wrong' about it with a sense of resignation and tiredness. Obviously I am seeing it from a website so not getting a true feeling for it in situ. Is the head too big? It doesn't seem to be.

    However there is another painting of Blair by Jonathan Yeo, which is more in the Duchess of Cambridge territory. That in itself doesn’t make it a bad portrait (if only I could capture a likeness like that) but it’s bland and doesn’t make you feel anything about the person. The sketchiness of the portrait adds to that and seems like it's being tolerated by the sitter. OK then, let's get this over and done with and apparently, that was exactly what happened. I feel sorry for the artist when the sitter does not allow them at least a few sessions together as it hard to know a person from a few hours. Then, of course, if its a well known figure, you will have some pre-conceived ideas about that person. To be honest, its a dis-service to the artist and the sitter themselves when that happens.

    Just because a painting is technically good, doesn’t make it a good piece of work.

    I suspect the 2 portraits by Alastair Adams and Phil Hale will stand the test of time, as people will respond to what they find in the portrait, good or bad. That is what a work of art should do, provoke a response. Jonathan Yeo's work will be remembered because it was the first offical portrait Mr Blair allowed to be done.

    Yep! Glad I am not a portrait artist.


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