Cronyism row hits National Portrait Gallery over pictures of future trustee

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The National Portrait Gallery has been accused of cronyism and a conflict of interests after paying more than £20,000 for photographs of a future trustee and several businessmen linked to donors from the telecom industry.

Critics have called for an overhaul of Charity Commission guidelines following the gallery's decision to add 19 photographs, including a portrait of David Ross, the deputy chairman of The Carphone Warehouse, to its permanent collection.

The portraits, by South African photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, were commissioned last year at a cost of £21,150 and formally acquired by the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year.

In addition to Ross, who joined the NPG's board in February, they portray Charles Dunstone, a co-founder of The Carphone Warehouse, and five current or former Vodafone executives. The gallery had previously accepted a three-year grant from the Vodafone UK Foundation.

The National Portrait Gallery denies this relationship affected its decision to acquire the portraits. But critics say that several figures on the list, below, wouldn't usually be of sufficient importance to merit inclusion in the permanent collection.

"These people are obscure and unimportant, and to include them in the National Portrait Gallery does not make sense," said Charles Thomson, co-founder of the Stuckist group of artists, who campaign for openness in gallery acquisitions.

"When people look back in 100 years, they will consider, from the gallery's collection, that the leading lights of today's society are a bunch of cellphone salesmen.

"It stinks, for two reasons. Firstly, Mr Ross is now both a trustee, and a member of the industry that has been boosted by this acquisition. Secondly, Vodafone now has a virtual Who's Who of its executives in the permanent collection."

Details of the purchases came to light after The Independent obtained a list of all the NPG's acquisitions since 2003, under the Freedom of Information act.

It reveals that the gallery has acquired a total of 86 new works this year, of which 56 portrayed living subjects. These included 26 drawings of Sir Steve Redgrave by Dryden Goodwin for £25,000, and a painting of Rupert Murdoch by Jonathan Yeo for £11,750.

Stuart Pearson Wright was paid £32,900 for a series of 10 drawings of prominent actors, including Jeremy Irons.

The cost of the gallery's other high-profile recent commissions are also contained in the FOI disclosure. Sam Taylor Wood's video of David Beckham sleeping was bought in 2004 for £61,100.

A portrait of Dame Judi Dench by Alessandro Raho cost £19,975 in 2004, while two Pearson Wright drawings of JK Rowling were purchased for £4,100. An official portrait of Gordon Brown by Platon Antoniou cost a reassuringly prudent £400.

The National Portrait Gallery stressed yesterday that David Ross was not a trustee when the Broomberg and Chanarin exhibition, Defying Distance, was commissioned.

A spokesman said that their policy was to acquire portraits of "significant behind-the- scenes-figures" as well as household names.

The relationship between art galleries and their trustees has been subjected to increasing scrutiny in recent months after the Tate Gallery was formally reprimanded by the Charity Commission for spending £600,000 on Christopher Ofili's The Upper Room when Ofili was a Tate trustee.

During that row, The NPG admitted it had commissioned one of its own trustees, Tom Phillips, to paint its outgoing director, Charles Saumarez Smith.

Mr Thomson, whose investigations prompted the Charity Commission inquiry into the Tate, yesterday called for a similar inquiry into the NPG's acquisition policy.

The faces of success

The 19 photographs by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were acquired in 2006 for £18,000 plus VAT. They show:

* David Ross, deputy chairman and co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, and a NPG trustee since February

* Arun Sarin, chief executive of Vodafone

* Hans Snook, founder and former chief executive of Orange

* Ernest Harrison, founder and former chairman of Vodafone

* Stephen Littlechild, the former electricity regulator, who lobbied for break-up of BT

* Sir Christopher Gent, former chief executive of Vodafone

* Charles Dunstone, Carphone Warehouse co-founder

* David Rowe, chief executive and founder of Easynet, broadband firm rival to BT

* Stephen Carter, former chief executive of Ofcom

* Bryan Victor Carsberg, former director of Cable &Wireless

* Ken Hydon, former finance director of Vodafone

* Christopher Bland, chairman of BT

* James Golob, communications analyst and head of telecoms research at Goldman Sachs

* Peter Dawe, former head of Pipex, an internet communications firm

* John Causebrook, specialist on electromagnetic radiation and technical adviser on health matters to Vodafone

* Tim Berners Lee, scientist who invented the world wide web

* Patricia Hewitt, former secretary of state for trade and industry, now Secretary of State for Health

* Frances Cairncross, economist, journalist, and chairman of the British Association for the Advancement of Science