24 APRIL 2008

Unveiled in Westminster on Wednesday after months of anticipation, a new portrait of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair captures the determined spirit of the man which saw him through a decade as the country's leader.

Painted during his final few months in office, the latest addition to the parliamentary art collection shows the politician and dad of four clad in an open-neck white shirt and black jacket, an intent and serious expression on his face.

Mr Blair sat for the piece, painted by National Portrait Gallery-exhibited artist Phil Hale, at the prime minister's official country retreat of Chequers in Buckinghamshire.

The portrait is groundbreaking for two reasons. It's the only formal portrait of the statesman painted while he was in office, and is the first portrait to feature a male premier without a tie. The artist resisted suggestions from The Palace Of Westminister that neckwear be included, saying the pose was "already suitably formal and dignified".

The painting will hang in Portcullis House - the modern building opposite the Palace of Westminster - alongside images of other former prime ministers. Politicians' pictures cannot be hung in the Palace itself until they have been out of office for two full terms.

Photo: ©
The work, in which the former premier bears an intent and serious expression, is the only formal portrait painted during Mr Blair's time in office - and the first to show a British prime minister without his tie. It will hang at Portcullis House, opposite the Palace of WestminsterPhoto: © PAClick on photo to enlarge