The Independent has learnt that 18th-century portraits of military figures and even a prime minister (William Pitt the Younger) are being removed and replaced by pictures of a ballet dancer, a feminist author and peace campaigner, a Booker prizewinner, a highly popular crime writer and an actor.
The Royal Ballet's Darcey Bussell will fill the space that belonged to Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth. Sir Joshua Reynolds' portrait of General Sir William Fawcett gives way to the late actor Sir Dirk Bogarde; George Romney's portrait of William Pitt the Younger bows out in favour of Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker prize with his novel Remains Of the Day.
Joining them will be paintings of the crime writer P D James, and the late author and peace campaigner Naomi Mitchison.
The new batch of portraits, all on temporary loan from the National Portrait Gallery, will hang in the pillared drawing room, the main room for entertaining at Number 10 and the scene of Mr and Mrs Blair's much- reported drinks parties, attended by guests ranging from foreign dignitaries to Noel Gallagher of Oasis.
A senior government official said yesterday that while neither Mr Blair nor his wife asked for particular portraits, they approved the final choice, which was selected by civil servants and staff from the Government Art Collection.
The official added: "The Prime Minister and Mrs Blair were keen to reflect a more contemporary image for the public spaces in the building."
Alison Cole of the National Art Collections Fund said last night: "Portraitists like Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney prided themselves on moving in the highest echelons of society. They would have been deeply incensed on being shown the door."Reuse content