This is a first glimpse of the official portrait of Brian Cowen as Taoiseach that will hang in Leinster House – more than 11 years after he left office.
The painting, by artist Blaise Smith, will hang in Leinster House in September but is being exhibited at the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy) from tomorrow.
Mr Cowen has suffered with health problems following a stroke in recent years, and has stepped back from public life.
The portrait shows him in characteristic pose at Government Buildings, hands joined in front.
His brother Barry Cowen TD told the Irish Independent yesterday: “It is long overdue, and he has every right and privilege to be hanging there with his predecessors.”
There were delays in commissioning the portrait by the Office of Public Works (OPW), in part because of the financial crisis that blighted Mr Cowen’s time as head of government after many successful years as minister for finance.
The last Taoiseach portrait erected on the leaders’ gallery overlooking the staircase to the Dáil chamber entrance at Leinster House was that of Bertie Ahern, by artist James Hanley.
A process to commission a formal image of Enda Kenny is under way. The courtesy is extended to former Taoisigh when they have left the Dáil.
The OPW has lent the official portrait of Mr Cowen to the RHA Annual Exhibition. The exhibition, which displays no fewer than 570 artworks, runs until mid-August and admission is free.
The OPW paid a commission fee for the official portrait of €12,000.
Artist Smith said it took him over a year to complete the portrait, which he said Mr Cowen and his family were very pleased with.
He told the Irish Independent: “The portrait I painted of Brian Cowen is like a composite of many moments.
“It shows him during his term as Taoiseach and in Government Buildings.
“The job of a portrait painter is an elaborate process, involving meetings and developing drawings with both the sitter and the commissioner, in this case the OPW.
“Various stages are approved before the final painting is commenced.
“I have been working on this particular portrait for over a year.
“However, the most important meeting was with Brian Cowen and his family,” he said. “It is very hard to judge a painting of one’s own, and having the family’s approval assures me that I have caught the essence of the person. I was delighted that they liked it.”
Mr Cowen served as Taoiseach from May 2008, after the resignation of Mr Ahern, until March 2011.
He resigned as leader of Fianna Fáil in January 2011, to be replaced by current Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
The portraits of 11 of the 13 former Taoisigh are currently on display in the Dáil, with that of Mr Ahern put up in the autumn of 2011.
James Hanley chose to devote much of his Ahern portrait canvas to blue skies, reflecting the former Taoiseach’s love of the Dublin GAA team. Mr Smith will now join the ranks of eminent Irish artists to have painted a former Taoiseach.
They include Seán O’Sullivan, who painted William T Cosgrave and John A Costello; Leo Whelan (Éamon de Valera); Maurice MacGonigal (Seán Lemass); John F Kelly (Jack Lynch and Charles Haughey); Edward Maguire (Liam Cosgrave); Derek Hill (Garret FitzGerald); Carey Clarke (Albert Reynolds) and Edward Plunkett (John Bruton).
Two unofficial portraits of Mr Cowen were discovered in Dublin galleries in 2009, sparking public controversy and leading to a garda investigation. They were hung without authorisation in the National Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy and showed Mr Cowen from the waist up, wearing only glasses.
They were speedily removed and the guerilla artist was identified as a Mayo schoolteacher. No criminal charges were brought against the perpetrator.