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Hard-up councils bust £ 10,000 on portraits … guess what an art critic thought of them


Imagine! Hard-up councils bust £ 10,000 on portraits … guess what an art critic thought of them

  • Essex County Council spent £ 3,769 on a painting by Chairman John Jowers
  • Includes a £ 38 fee for the artist to visit Councilor Jowers in front of the painting
  • The portrait showed the chairman cross-legged and hands on his lap
  • Hertfordshire County Council paid £ 581 for a photo of its chairman

The councils spent £ 10,600 of public money on portraits of town hall chiefs last year, the Mail can show.

About half was spent on a single Essex County Council chief painting, which can only be viewed by appointment.

The number comes from responses to 14 freedom of information requests.

Essex County Council, which has increased council tax by an average of £ 50 over the past year, spent £ 3,769 on a painting by its Chairman John Jowers.

This included a £ 38 fee for the artist to visit Councilor Jowers and talk about "how he would like to sit and what kind of painting style he would like".

The portrait shows the chairman, who received £ 35,061 allowances last year and who once claimed the councilors were “good value” for the taxpayer, cross-legged in a navy suit and gold Office chain.

"Soulless": The critics' verdict on this portrait of ex-Essex Council boss John Jowers

"Amateur": painting by former Charnwood Borough Council Mayor Pauline Ranson

It is hung in a committee room in the district house, which is “not an open public space”. Residents need to book an appointment to view it – and be escorted to and from the room. Art expert Paul Carter Robinson, editor of Artlyst.com, told the Mail last night that the portrait was "soulless".

Hertfordshire County Council paid £ 581 for a photo of its chairman – while raising council tax by 3 percent.

It is on display in the town hall and shows Colette Wyatt-Lowe in a blue-green silk dress and her gold office chain. It was recorded by Pete Stevens, who describes himself on his website as "a seasoned professional photographer" – although Carter Robinson thought it was "a lack of warmth".

Charnwood Borough Council in Leicestershire spent £ 671 on portraits of two mayors.

'Insufficient Warmth': Photo by Hertfordshire City Council Chair Colette Wyatt-Lowe

'Insufficient Warmth': Photo by Hertfordshire City Council Chair Colette Wyatt-Lowe

It hired two Loughborough College art students to paint from Pauline Ranson, who held the post from 2017 to 2018, and Christine Harris, who took over the following year.

The pictures of city councilors smiling in traditional robes and office chains cost £ 310 for the frame. But Carter Robinson described Councilor Ranson's picture as "amateur" and Councilor Harris' portrait as "badly executed".

Meanwhile, Devon County Council spent £ 470 on photos of former leaders last year. A picture of 2018-19 Chairwoman Caroline Chugg in a purple dress that Carter Robinson described as a 'cringeworthy' showed £ 237 spent.

"Forbearable" Photo of Devon County Council Chairman John Mathews

"Cringeworthy": Former Devonian chairwoman Caroline Chugg was photographed in purple

And she spent £ 233 on a photo of her successor, John Mathews, which the art expert described as "self-sufficient glorification."

Barnet, London paid £ 250 for a photo of Mayor Caroline Stock in her red robes – which Carter Robinson described as "boring as dishwater".

And the Adur and Worthing councils in West Sussex gave a stonemason £ 400 to engrave the name of former Worthing Mayor Hazel Irene Thorpe on the walls outside the committee suite. The process, which took two days, is paid for each year.

Yesterday an Essex County Council spokesman said the portrait of Councilor Jowers was "nothing out of the ordinary" as every chairman has been painted since 1900.

"Boring as dishwater": Photo of Barnet Mayor Caroline Stock in her robe

"Badly Executed": Painting by Charnwood Borough Council Mayor Christine Harris

Hertfordshire County Council said it had a "long history" of commissioning portraits of its chairman and displaying them at County Hall. It said it had "significantly reduced" costs over the past decade by moving from paintings to "high quality portraits".

Charnwood Council said it was "proud" to have commissioned art students to paint portraits of both mayors for the past two years to "mark their year of service for the district and promote local art".

A Devon County Council spokesman said it was "a tradition" to commission a portrait of the chairman as a "mark of service". He added, "To save money, we use photos, not paintings."

The total of £ 10,620 was based on 14 responses to freedom of information requests – a fraction of the 366 responses received. This means that the real cost to the government is likely to be much higher.

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