A Showcase for Art

Keen to champion Britain’s position in the world, Margaret Thatcher saw the potential of 10 Downing Street as a place to showcase art, and took an active interest in new displays. Her successors John Major and Tony Blair continued to support new work at 10 Downing Street, with Blair's 'Cool Britannia' image informing some of the displays during his premiership.

Dr Wendy Baron, the art historian and scholar, became Director of the Government Art Collection in 1978, leading the organisation for two decades. A year later, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Thatcher favoured portraits of celebrated British figures, however in 1984, she encouraged the acquisition of Seascape, an early 1920s painting by Winston Churchill. This remained on display at Downing Street for the rest of her premiership.

View of 3 sailing boats on the sea with a cloudy sky of yellow and mauve above

Winston Spencer Churchill, Seascape (C.133) c. 1920s © Churchill Heritage Ltd (Coombs No. 133)

Young contemporary British artists

Thatcher’s successors, John Major and Tony Blair, continued to support the acquisition and display of new art works, with a focus on young contemporary British artists. The arrival of Penny Johnson in 1997, from the Towner Art Gallery, as the new Director of the Government Art Collection, contributed to the acquisition of dynamic new work by British artists. That year, the Collection became part of the new Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The successive Coalition government after the 2010 General Election and the continuing political changes at 10 Downing Street have seen a range of different artwork featured in the building. During David Cameron’s premiership, Tracey Emin’s pink neon work, More Passion, was presented for display in the Anteroom, one of the most prominent spaces in the premises. Instantly recognisable, Emin’s work is a rallying call for more commitment, ‘more passion’ across the political spectrum.

A bright pink neon spells out the words "More Passion" twice underlined

Tracey Emin, More Passion, 2010 © Tracey Emin. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016

Read next: Portraiture