IT has been breathlessly billed as the public search for "Ireland's favourite painting".
But a leading artist last night claimed that art critics and insiders -- rather than the general public -- will decide an RTE poll which aims to find the country's most-loved canvas.
In recent months, the national broadcaster has asked the public for nominations for 'Masterpiece: Ireland's Favourite Paintings', a TV and radio campaign fronted by Mike Murphy.
A longlist was drawn up of 100 paintings -- 78 nominated by the public and galleries, 22 chosen by a panel of art experts selected by RTE.
Artist Robert Ballagh has criticised the decision to now allow the same panel of experts to narrow down the list to a final 10 on which the public will vote.
"It does seem contradictory, the idea of the public picking their favourite picture, and then RTE bringing in art critics and experts to whittle the list down," he told the Irish Independent.
"What we're going to end up with is not Ireland's favourite painting, but what a panel of art critics and experts have decided should be Ireland's favourite painting."
One of Ballagh's own paintings features on the longlist.
RTE describes the panel of judges who made the final call as "respected art professionals".
They include art experts Gemma Tipton, Peter Cherry, Oliver Dowling and Robert O'Byrne, and Ireland's first lady Sabina Higgins.
A spokeswoman for RTE said a "selection process" was essential, with the amount of paintings on display in Ireland.
"We debated long and hard on how we would go about this process in a way that was guaranteed to provide a shortlist of credibility and integrity. We had to choose a route which would be true to the spirit of the campaign, which is to celebrate our visual arts heritage," she said.
RTE pointed out that presenter Mike Murphy and Ms Higgins were asked to represent the public, and art experts were selected to ensure the shortlist had "credibility".
The television arts show 'The Works' will see well-known faces make a case for their own favourites over the coming weeks, while there will also be debates about the merits of various paintings on RTE radio.
Ireland's most loved painting will be revealed on 'The Works' on May 24 by President Michael D Higgins.