Page last updated at 15:53 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 16:53 UK

Portrait of Blair as PM unveiled

The portrait was painted in Mr Blair's last months in office

A portrait of Tony Blair, painted in his final few months as prime minister, has been unveiled in Westminster.

Mr Blair sat for artist Phil Hale in the PM's official country residence at Chequers for the portrait, which will be hung in Portcullis House.

Mr Hale said Mr Blair had had "more pressing concerns than prettifying himself for a picture". In an e-mail he said he was "tired and distracted".

Another Blair portrait was unveiled in January, by artist Jonathan Yeo.

The painting by Mr Hale will be displayed alongside pictures of other former prime ministers and leading politicians at Portcullis House - the modern building opposite the Palace of Westminster.

'Transparent' presence

Politicians' pictures cannot be hung in the Palace itself until they have been out of office for two full terms.

The painting was the only formal one painted while Mr Blair was in office. Mr Hale said he had seen his role as a "documentarist" and had tried to remain "as transparent a presence as possible".

It humanises him - I don't think it is unsympathetic
Artist Phil Hale in email

"Any filtering or shaping would have distorted and devalued the piece," he said.

"Blair himself was very accommodating. I was lucky to see him at Chequers, and lucky that he had more pressing concerns than prettifying himself for a picture.

"I think we were well-balanced in that sense; he didn't perform and I didn't divine."

Head 'too big'

In e-mails obtained by the Daily Telegraph under the Freedom of Information act, the artist said Mr Blair had been "tired and distracted" but said of the painting: "It humanises him - I don't think it is unsympathetic."

Hugo Swire, the Tory chairman of the advisory committee on works of art, said it was an "authoritative and powerful portrait" and an important addition to the collection.

Tony Blair by Jonathan Yeo

But art critic David Lee told the BBC the painting was "very competent" but a "very dull, formal picture" and the artist seemed to have had a problem with Mr Blair's head which appeared "too big".

"If he's got any expression at all on his face, it's the fact that he's fallible somehow. He looks very down, whereas you would expect him to be upbeat."

The first official portrait of Mr Blair was unveiled in January - by artist Jonathan Yeo, son of Tory MP Tim Yeo - and was painted after Mr Hale's.

Mr Blair had refused previous official portrait requests, although he did feature in an unofficial triptych of Mr Blair with the then Conservative leader William Hague and Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy during the 2001 election - also painted by Mr Yeo.

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