April’s Artwork of the Month is June Mendoza’s portrait of John Major, the Conservative leader who took the party to an unprecedented fourth sucessive election victory 25 years ago this month.
The portrait of the then Prime Minister was commissioned for the Parliamentary Art Collection by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art in 1994.
This followed the commissioning of a portrait of Major’s predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, from the artist Henry Mee in 1992. Both paintings are part of Parliament’s significant collection of Prime Ministers’ portraits.
Australian-born June Mendoza is a renowned and prolific portrait painter. Prior to painting John Major she was commissioned in 1986 to paint a large group portrait of the House of Commons in session for the Parliamentary Art Collection.
Both of these works hang as part of the contemporary portraiture collection in Portcullis House and can be viewed by members of the public attending committee meetings or taking specialised tours.
John Major’s parliamentary career
After failing to be elected to the House of Commons twice in 1974, John Major (b.1943) won the seat for Huntingdonshire in 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher first became Prime Minister.
Having served as a ministerial aide and junior whip, in 1985 Major was made Under-Secretary of State for Social Security. The following year he became Minister of State for the same department. He entered Cabinet for the first time in 1987 when Thatcher made him Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
1989 witnessed Major’s promotion first to Foreign Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer. A year later he replaced Thatcher, who had lost her party’s confidence, as Prime Minister.
A General Election on 9 April 1992 saw an unexpected victory for Major’s Conservatives, who became the first party to win four successive terms in government since 1827. They also received the most votes ever recorded by a British political party in a General Election.
Major’s period as Prime Minister was often dominated by splits within his party over Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, he oversaw the longest period of economic growth in British history and made significant progress on issues such as peace in Northern Ireland.
After losing the 1997 General Election to Tony Blair’s Labour Party, Major resigned as Prime Minister and Conservative leader. He remained active in the House of Commons until stepping down at the 2001 General Election. He subsequently declined a life peerage.
Image: Detail of ‘John Major MP, Prime Minister’ by June Mendoza, oil on canvas, 1996 (WOA 5344)