London’s National Portrait Gallery, London, has unveiled its most recent commissioned portrait, a painting of Tony Blair by artist Alastair Adams.
The eyes are glaring and slightly vacant and he looks a bit haggard but it is a difinitive portrait of the once popular Labour leader. The commission is in keeping with the National Portrait Gallery’s wish to acquire portraits of all former British Prime Ministers.
The large oil painting (four feet by three) shows the former British Prime Minister in dramatic close-up. Begun in the spring of 2011, the first sittings took place at Tony Blair’s home, South Pavilion in Wotton Underwood, in Buckinghamshire, where Adams was able to begin working on sketches to establish a definitive pose. Working from life and using photographs for reference, Adams worked up several portraits in oils and in graphite. The resulting work is a very immediate portrayal of the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister and, to date, the youngest Labour Prime Minister to take up office since 1812.
Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The direct gaze of the sitter is uncompromising but also reflects his considerable skill as a negotiator on the world stage. The Gallery is now able to represent Tony Blair with a portrait consonant with the personality of an individual who has considerably shaped the political, economic and cultural climate of Britain’.
Educated at the University of Oxford, Tony Blair (b. 1953) joined the Labour Party in 1975, was called to the bar in 1976 and in 1983 he was elected to the House of Commons as the Labour Member of Parliament for Sedgefield. Blair became Shadow Home Secretary in 1992 and after John Smith’s sudden death in 1994 was elected Leader of the Opposition. Under his leadership Labour won a historic landslide victory in the general election in May 1997. Blair led the party to victory in three consecutive elections, becoming the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister before resigning in 2007. He led extensive public service reform of school and hospitals, negotiated the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland, led the London 2012 Games bid and oversaw the UK’s involvement in the conflict in Iraq. Since leaving office, he continues to play a role in public life, as special envoy to the Middle East for the ‘Quartet’, working with the Palestinians to prepare for statehood as part of the international community’s effort to secure peace.
Alastair Adams (b. 1969) trained as an illustrator through which he developed his interest in figurative and portrait painting. 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’. In 2002 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and in 2005 became the Society’s Treasurer. In 2008 he was made President, the youngest in the Society’s 122 year history. Adams 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.