Michael Foot

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Michael Foot (1913-2010) was first elected to Parliament in 1945 as Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, a seat he held until 1955. From 1960-92 he was the member for Ebbw Vale, renamed Blaenau Gwent in 1983. He was made Secretary of State for Employment 1974-76 by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and then served as Leader of the House of Commons 1976-79 under James Callaghan’s Government. Foot became Leader of the Opposition in 1980, standing down after the 1983 General Election to allow Neil Kinnock to become Party Leader.

Alongside his political career Foot also worked as a journalist and writer. He variously edited the Evening Standard and Tribune and was the political columnist for the Daily Herald for 20 years from 1944. His publications included biographies of Aneurin Bevan and H G Wells.

 

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Rt Hon Michael Foot MP Rt Hon Michael Foot MP
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The Rt Hon Michael Foot MP The Rt Hon Michael Foot MP
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John Bratby RA’s (1928-92) portrait of Michael Foot was probably painted in the late 1970s or 1980s. During this period Bratby painted a large number of small portraits inspired by George Frederic Watt’s Hall of Fame, a portrait series of prominent Victorians now in the National Portrait Gallery. Bratby described the individuals that he invited to sit for him as: ‘High achievers, people of originality, those who shaped their own destiny, those who made their own mark on life.’ By 1990 the series numbered around 1500 works.

Born in London, Bratby studied at Kingston College of Art (1948-50) and the Royal College of Art (1951-54). He worked in a distinctively harsh realist style involving the use of bright colours thickly applied to the canvas. In the 1950s he became a leading exponent of what became known as the ‘Kitchen Sink School’. Along with the other young artists that formed this group his work focused on ordinary domestic scenes and the banality of everyday life.

Bratby was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1971. Although he initially found fame for his ‘kitchen sink realist’ paintings, he was preoccupied with portraiture throughout his career. As a result of the Hall of Fame series in particular he became one of the twentieth century’s most prolific portraitists.

This portrait was acquired by the Parliamentary Art Collection in 2001.

This is a detail of a large portrait of Michael Foot painted by Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002). The picture was produced as part of a project titled Addictive Behavior, which looked at various forms of obsession. Foot was included as an example of addiction to left-wing politics.

For most of his working life Lenkiewicz was based in Plymouth, the city where Michael Foot was born and where he was first elected as an MP. Foot described their shared connection with Plymouth in the following terms: ‘My father was born in Notte Street, just round the corner from the studio. He would have been thrilled to see how [Lenkiewicz] did the paintings… Robert made a wonderful contribution to our beloved city.’ In the portrait Foot wears a distinctive Plymouth Argyle scarf. He was a keen supporter of the football team throughout his life.

Lenkiewicz was born in London, the son of Jewish refugees. He was largely self-taught, although he studied for periods at St Martin’s College of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. Lenkiewicz had a life-long interest in society’s marginal communities and taboo topics. During his lifetime he was never successful in financial or critical terms, but his work was always popular with the general public.

This painting was left unfinished when the artist died in 2002. It was acquired in 2004 when the Lenkiewicz Foundation gave Parliament the opportunity to purchase it for the Parliamentary Art Collection.