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Mo Mowlam

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Mo Mowlam

by John Keane
oil on canvas, 2001
60 1/8 in. x 48 1/4 in. (1528 mm x 1224 mm) overall
Commissioned, 2001
Primary Collection
NPG 6468

Sitterback to top

  • Marjorie ('Mo') Mowlam (1949-2005), Journalist, writer and Labour politician; MP for Redcar. Sitter in 2 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • John Keane (1954-), Artist. Artist of 2 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

This painting originally began as a proposal by the artist to paint a group portrait commemorating the Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations. The group was to consist of Mo Mowlam, Gerry Adams, John Hume and David Trimble. In spite of the sensitive politics of such a painting, all the sitters initially reacted positively to the suggestion. However, when the peace process went into crisis, Trimble expressed reluctance to sit for the group. Once the outlook for the peace process was more positive, attempts were made to restart the project but these failed. It was consequently decided that the commission should be changed from the Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations to a portrait of Mo Mowlam, with reference to her involvement in the peace process.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Howgate, Sarah; Nairne, Sandy, A Guide to Contemporary Portraits, 2009, p. 28 Read entry

    Gulf War artist John Keane came to the Gallery with a proposal to paint a group portrait commemorating the Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations. When talks broke down, some of the group were no longer willing to sit and so the commission became a portrait of Dr Mo Mowlam (1949-2005), Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1997 to 1999 and one of Tony Blair’s most popular ministers with a human attitude to politics. The work represents an unusual, contemporary approach. Mowlam didn’t wish to sit for her portrait – she found it impossible to sit still – and Keane didn’t want to paint from life, so he worked from digital stills, which add a pixellated quality to the image.

  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 260 Read entry

    Following an academic career, Mowlam became a Labour Member of Parliament in 1987, and the first female Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1997. She played a key role in orchestrating the Good Friday Agreement and reviving the peace process.

    This portrait began as an ambitious proposal by John Keane (b.1954) to paint all the participants in the Irish Peace Talks. When the talks went into crisis, the idea was abandoned in favour of a commission to paint just Mowlam, in recognition of her personal contribution.

    Keane’s work is often concerned with issues of conflict; he had been the official artist of the Gulf War in 1990, but this portrait offered a refreshing opportunity to celebrate a resolution. Preferring to work alone in his studio, he used photographs, an approach that suited his busy sitter. Keane has recorded that the paint itself is as important as the subject on the canvas: ‘It’s where the substance of paint dissolves into image and vice versa that sets up a kind of tension in the surface.’

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 2001back to top

Current affairs

Labour wins a second landslide general election victory campaigning on improvements to public services based on private finance projects. The Conservative party proved itself to be out-of-touch by ignoring public services and campaigning on the issue of Britain's membership of the EU. The day after the election William Hague resigned as leader of the Conservative Party.

Art and science

The Eden Project opens in Cornwall. The eco-centre, conceived by Tim Smit, replicates tropical and temporal climates and houses plants from all over the world in two domed biomes. The project is both a large-scale scientific experiment to study the environmental changes in different biomes over time, and a visitor attraction teaching the public about the natural environment.


On 11th September (9/11) America comes under foreign attack for the first time since Pearl Harbour when Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists hijack four planes, flying two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, and one into the Pentagon; the forth plane crashed in a field.
George Bush launches his 'War on Terror' by invading Afghanistan to overthrown the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda.

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