The cost of The Speaker's State portrait

Request

The cost to the taxpayer of the commissioning of the portrait of The Speaker and what consideration was given to less costly alternatives.

Response

The cost of the Speaker’s State portrait for the House of Commons was £37,000 and was paid for from Parliamentary funds.

Each Speaker is asked to sit for his or her state portrait when in office. These portraits form part of the Parliamentary Art Collection, which is a national collection illustrating the history of Parliament and British politics over the centuries. It is a public collection belonging to the Nation. This portrait adds value to the Parliamentary art collection which is a unique record of British parliamentary history and a valuable national asset. (Further information about the Parliamentary Art Collection) The collection has an unbroken line of images of speakers since the Palace of Westminster was completed in the late 1850s. Although tradition calls for these to be full length portraits, decorated with the Speaker’s coat of arms, with frames designed to be in keeping with the historic interior of the building, every effort is made to undertake this work in a cost effective way. The artist’s fee is always agreed through careful negotiation, balancing the prices artists can command for their work against strict value for money considerations.

Brendan Kelly was selected from a small number of shortlisted portrait painters recommended by Parliament’s curatorial staff. Full length portraits call for particular skills and Mr Kelly’s ability was felt best suited to this complex commission. A fee was negotiated with the artist, who spent over 12 months working on the portrait. The gilded wooden frame was made by the company who submitted the lowest quotation. No alternative to a painting in oil on canvas was considered in this instance, as the portrait of Speaker Bercow follows a formal tradition of representing speakers in painted format at the House of Commons. Although photographic portraits are commissioned from time to time for the Parliamentary Art Collection it would not have been appropriate in this instance. The Speaker recognises that we are going through hard economic times and this is reflected in the House of Commons savings programme to cut costs by 17 per cent by 2014/15.