Gallery rebuffs Aussie billionaire's call to take down portrait

Mining billionaire Gina Rinehart has demanded the National Gallery of Australia remove her portrait from an exhibition by award-winning artist Vincent Namatjira.

The image, arguably an unflattering picture of Australia's richest woman, is one of 21 portraits that make up an artwork titled Australia in Colour, which the gallery acquired as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations in 2022.

The artwork is on show as part of the Archibald prize-winning artist's first major survey exhibition, which opened in Canberra in March.

The National Gallery has rebuffed efforts to have the picture taken down and said in a statement that it welcomed public dialogue on its collection and displays.

"Since 1973, when the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, there has been a dynamic discussion on the artistic merits of works in the national collection, and/or on display at the gallery," it said.

"We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art."

The portrait of Mrs Rinehart sits alongside images of Queen Elizabeth II and football player Adam Goodes and is set to be on display until July 21.

Before going on show in Canberra, the painting was on public display in Adelaide for months during the exhibition's initial run at the Art Gallery of South Australia from October 2023 until January 2024.

The SA gallery has confirmed it did not field any requests for the removal of the painting.

A reproduction of the image is also part of a prestigious Thames & Hudson monograph about Vincent Namatjira's work, published to accompany the survey show.

Mrs Rinehart is listed as a friend of the National Gallery after donating between $A4999 and $A9999 ($NZ5470 - $NZ10,940) to the institution.

She has been contacted for comment through her company Hancock Prospecting.

In 2023, Mrs Rinehart withdrew an $A15 million sponsorship of Netball Australia after Indigenous netballer Donnell Wallam asked for her uniform not to carry the Hancock Prospecting logo.

Mrs Rinehart later set up an $A3 million fund to reward athletes who won gold medals or set world records in swimming, artistic swimming, rowing and volleyball.

In 2020 Namatjira became the first Aboriginal artist to win the Archibald Prize with his portrait of former AFL player Adam Goodes, with his paintings an attempt to change people's perspectives by using satirical humour as a commentary on power.

For example, in one of his recent works included in the show, King Charles III stands in his regalia in the central desert, looking decidedly uncomfortable and out of place, as an artistic way of depriving the royal family of their power and entitlement.

Namatjira was born in Alice Springs and raised in foster care in Perth from the age of six, which meant losing his connection to family, country and culture.

He grew up not knowing of his link to famed watercolourist Albert Namatjira - Vincent is his great-grandson - until he was an adult, and was astonished to discover his artistic legacy and the significance of his family name.