Committee unveils portrait of former Prime Minister Theresa May
5 September 2023
A portrait of former Prime Minister and Home Secretary - The Rt Hon Theresa May MP - has been unveiled in Parliament, following a commission from the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art.
Painted by the critically acclaimed British artist Saied Dai, the portrait of the current MP for Maidenhead will eventually hang in Portcullis House, one of the busiest buildings on the Parliamentary Estate. Based on three sittings at the artist’s studio, the work took approximately a year to complete, and was accessioned into the Parliamentary Art Collection in the summer of 2023.
The Parliamentary Art Collection records those who have made a significant contribution to UK political life over the centuries. In each parliament the Committee endeavours to update this record by adding to the contemporary portrait collection. Theresa May’s inclusion in the Collection recognises her service to the constituents of Maidenhead since 1997, as well as the variety of positions she has held within Parliament and public life since then.
Theresa May was a member of the Shadow Cabinet from 1999 to 2010 and in 2002 became the first woman Chair of the Conservative Party. In 2010 she was appointed Home Secretary, a position which she held for six years before becoming Prime Minister. She served as Prime Minister for three years, until July 2019.
Dean Russell MP, Chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art said:
“The Parliamentary Art Collection records those who have made an important contribution to politics and public service here in the UK. Few embody this more than Theresa May – our second female Prime Minister, as well as a devoted Parliamentarian and a dedicated public servant. Our cross-party Committee of MPs have recognised her contributions to Parliament throughout the decades she has served here, and we were delighted to accept this fantastic work into the Collection.”
About the artwork
Saied Dai is a British figurative artist, living and working in Bath. Born in Tehran, he is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 2004 and the New English Art Club in 2009. He has won international recognition for his work and is considered one of the United Kingdom’s most important portrait artists. Many of his works are characterised by an interest in geometry and texture, and draw heavily on the long history of Western portraiture.
Entitled 'The Rt Hon Theresa May MP', Dai began working on the portrait in the summer of 2022. Completed earlier this year, the painting is gesso on panel, and measures 1300mm x 800mm unframed. The portrait features a bold colour palette and shows the sitter holding a Lily of the Valley flower – for which the Latin name is Convallaria majalis. Majalis meaning ‘of the month of May’, the visual motif acts as a subtle reference to the sitter, as well as a nod to the kinds of historic portraiture that influence the artist. It is his first work to feature in the Parliamentary Art Collection.
Saied Dai said:
“In this portrait, the aim was to produce not just a convincing physical likeness, but also a psychological characterisation, both individual and yet archetypal - imbued with symbolism and atmosphere. A good painting needs to be a revelation and also paradoxically, an enigma. It should possess an indefinable quality - in short, a mystery.”
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP said:
“It's a huge honour to have been chosen by the Speaker's Advisory Committee to sit for a portrait for the Parliamentary Art Collection and a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with Saied Dai. It's a fascinating process, and I enjoyed the sittings when I learnt so much about the artist’s approach. I am thrilled with Saied's interpretation. I'd like to thank him for this portrait and for the thoughtfulness and care he put into the painting. I’d also like to thank the Committee for the original commission.”
Opportunities to view
The portrait of Theresa May will be sited alongside other artworks from the Parliamentary Art Collection, in the publicly accessible area of the first floor of Portcullis House. Members of the public can view the work when attending Select Committee meetings during sitting times, as well as during special tour events which are scheduled at various periods throughout the year.
Image: The Rt Hon Theresa May MP, painting by Saied Dai, 2023. © UK Parliament WOA 7741. Photo: Peter Stone