The Parliamentary Art Collection at the House of Commons records those who have made a significant contribution to UK political life over the centuries and in each parliament the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art endeavours to update this record by adding to the contemporary portrait collection. Since 2009-10 the total annual budget for acquiring works of art for the Collection has been reduced by approximately a third. This reflects the need for savings as part of the House's drive to reduce its overall cost by 17 per cent by 2014-15.
Parliament is a changing institution and the cross-party Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art has worked hard since it was established in the 1950s to develop the Collection, which had developed little since the Victorian era. Care was taken to fill significant gaps in the Collection and ensure that it was relevant for future generations. Prime Ministers have also been an ongoing focus in developing the portrait collection. An early acquisition included a portrait of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, the first Prime Minister (painted in 1742), and over the last two decades images of Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair have been commissioned.
The current Committee, recognising the changing face of Parliament, places a particular emphasis on representing the contributions to UK political life made by women. For example, the award winning portrait of Margaret Beckett, completed in 2012, recognised her long and distinguished parliamentary career, including as the first woman to hold the position of British Foreign Secretary in 2006.
Selecting a parliamentarian
Once a parliamentarian has been selected by the Committee, he or she is approached and invited to sit, whilst in office, so as to maximise the relevance and historic value of the portrait to the Collection. Care is taken to match artist to sitter and to introduce a variety of artistic styles and approaches, supporting UK-based artists, in order to develop a well-balanced contemporary collection.