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The mining billionaire Gina Rinehart demanded that a portrait of her by the Aboriginal artist Vincent Namatjira be removed from public display at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra, according to local media. Rinehart has not commented publicly on the work.

The portrait of Rinehart, the executive chairperson of the mining and agricultural business Hancock Prospecting and the richest woman in Australia, is due to be displayed until 21 July in the show Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour. The work is part of a series of 21 works which also depict Queen Elizabeth II and the former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Rinehart asked the NGA director Nick Mitzevich and the NGA chair Ryan Stokes to take down the Namatjira portrait but the gallery declined. Associates at Hancock Prospecting reportedly complained that the museum was “doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party”, prompting some media platforms to speculate that the controversial work risks discrediting Rinehart’s reputation in China where her company has substantial interests. Hancock Prospecting were contacted for comment.

The full work has similar depictions of the late Queen Elizabeth II, current British (and Australian) monarch King Charles III and former prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard

The Guardian reported meanwhile that the sports body Swimming Queensland had also written to the gallery requesting the Rinehart portrait be taken off display. Hancock Prospecting is a major sponsor of Australian Olympic sports including swimming. Rinehart is worth an estimated $30.9bn according to Forbes and is listed on the NGA website as a donor (category AS$4,999 to A$9,999).

Kevin Hasemann, the chief executive of Swimming Queensland, wrote a letter to Nick Mitzevich, which he said was sent on behalf of members of the Australian swimming team. “Two portraits of our patron, Mrs Gina Rinehart, are of deep concern to us because they are offensive to Mrs Rinehart,” he wrote in April. “Through her philanthropy, Mrs Rinehart has proven herself to be a great Australian, and we respectfully urge you to reconsider the inclusion of these portraits in your galleries.” The second portrait referred to by Hasemann is also thought to be by Vincent Namatjira (a drawing dating from 2018).

Asked to comment, a spokesperson for the NGA tells The Art Newspaper: “The National Gallery welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays. Since 1973, when the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (Number 11, 1952), there has been a dynamic discussion on the artistic merits of works in the national collection, and/or on display at the gallery. We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art.”

Namatjira says in a statement: “I paint people who are wealthy, powerful, or significant—people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad. Some people might not like it, other people might find it funny but I hope people look beneath the surface and see the serious side too.”

The art critic John McDonald told the ABC News website: “[Rinehart is} a public figure because she’s always had something to say; she likes to exert influence [but] you’ve got to learn to take it.” The headline-hitting painting of Rinehart was on public display in Adelaide last year at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

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