Government asks Brian Cowen to sit for official portrait

Painting of leader who left role in 2011 set to join portraits of 11 taoisigh in Leinster House

The Department of the Taoiseach is to seek to commission an official portrait of former taoiseach Brian Cowen in the coming weeks.

The Irish Times has learned that the department has made contact with Mr Cowen requesting that he sit for the painting. Portraits of former taoisigh are displayed in the halls of Leinster House, but Mr Cowen's portrait is to date absent.

Department officials said Mr Cowen, who served as taoiseach from May 2008 to March 2011, has not yet agreed to sit for the painting. It is understood he has been told that a photograph will be used if a sitting cannot be facilitated.

The department is keen to begin the process, which can take up to 18 months to complete, and portraits of 11 of the 12 former taoisigh are currently on display in Leinster House.


The portrait of former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Bertie Ahern was hanged in the autumn of 2011. It was commissioned as far back as 2001 during Mr Ahern's second term as taoiseach, and was completed in 2003.

After coming under political pressure after a cabinet reshuffle and the State’s EU-IMF bailout in late 2010, Mr Cowen resigned as Fianna Fáil leader in January 2011, but remained as taoiseach until the Fine Gael-Labour coalition came to power in March of that year.


In early 2009 there was controversy after nude portraits of the then taoiseach appeared in the Royal Hibernian Academy gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland. In the images, which neither gallery was aware of, Mr Cowen was shown holding his underpants and a toilet roll.

A Garda investigation followed, but no charges were ever brought. RTÉ apologised for a television news report concerning the nude portraits of Mr Cowen after a complaint from the then government spokesman.

The department has not provided any explanation for the long delay in commissioning the portrait of Mr Cowen, which goes against the practice of recent portraits being displayed soon after the politicians resign as TDs.

All recent portraits of taoisigh have been completed when the politician is still in office or within two years of them standing down. When John Bruton stepped down from the position in 1997, his portrait was commissioned in 1998 and completed in 1999.

The one exception was Jack Lynch, whose portrait was commissioned in 1984, five years after he stepped down as taoiseach. Mr Lynch stayed on as a TD until 1982.

A portrait of President Michael D Higgins is being worked on, and will be hanged in Leinster House over the coming months.