News that New Labour has done away with some more of the old guard would not normally merit a mention. This time, however, it is paintings and not politicians that have been given the boot. Last night Gordon Brown unveiled to journalists the new selection of British art that he has hung upon the walls of Number 11 Downing Street.
In a reshuffle that the Chancellor hopes will show he has his finger on the pulse of the contemporary art world, he has got rid of eight paintings by famous British traditional artists and replaced them with more modern works.
The change has seen many household names put back in the galleries from where they were borrowed, including a portrait of Sir Richard and Lady Neave by Gainsborough and a portrait of Lady Hamilton by George Romney. In their place in the state drawing room at No 11 Mr Brown has hung works by British artists Leon Kossoff, Patrick Caulfield and Frank Auerbach.
Mr Brown says that because the room is used to receive a range of visitors from foreign dignitaries to charities, he is keen to display works by some of Britain's most famous living artists. "I want to use Downing Street to promote British art and culture," he said. "Many visitors to No 11 are from overseas. I was keen for them to see work by leading contemporary artists in the United Kingdom."
But there may be a little more to it than that. The Chancellor's staff said yesterday Mr Brown had been keen to get rid of the traditional works chosen by Norman Lamont during his tenure in charge of Britain's finances. Having given his officials a list of the sort of works he was interested in, he chose four paintings that have been borrowed from the Tate Gallery, the Arts Council and the Government's collection.
Frank Auerbach, who was born in Berlin but moved to Britain as a child, is famous for his use of extremely thick pigment. "No one past maturity should attempt to lift any but the smallest of his canvasses," said one critic.
Leon Kossoff, born of Russian immigrant parents in 1926, has a reputation for including himself, friends and family in his works, done in oils. Patrick Caulfield, who once said `Nothing is stranger than life itself', was appointed CBE in 1996.
"He was responsible for choosing these painters himself. They are his choices and no one else," said a spokesman for Mr Brown, dismissing suggestions that the Chancellor's girlfriend, Sarah Macaulay, had played a part. Mr Brown may be keen to promote himself as having less conservative tastes than previous chancellors, although critics suggested he was merely replacing traditional classics with modern classics.
But some critics were less forgiving of both Mr Brown's decision to take paintings from public galleries and of his taste. "The man is an arrogant stupid bugger if he is taking paintings from public collections for his own use," said the art critic Brian Sewell. "Why is the government collection not good enough for him? It is utterly disgraceful. Both Auerbach and Kossoff were much better painters 20 years ago. If he has got a Patrick Caulfield it suggests he knows bugger all about art."
Mr Caulfield said last night he was delighted that his work was being displayed at No 11.
Lady Hamilton, by George Romney. Lady Hester Mainwaring, by Cornelius Johnson. Ada, Countess of Lovelace, by Margaret Carpenter. Sir Richard and Lady Neave, by Thomas Gainsborough (above).
Black and White Flower Piece, by Patrick Caulfield (left).The Origin of the Great Bear, by Frank Auerbach. Head of EOW, by Frank Auerbach. Children Swimming, by Leon Kossoff.Reuse content