The man voted the most popular politician in Britain, his speeches said to be ‘a Glastonbury rite of passage’*, needs an eclectic portrait. In this intimate painting by Andrew Tift , Tony Benn sits amongst objects that were important to him in his political, public and private life.
The vial of blood to Tony Benn’s left symbolises the hereditary peerage he fought hard to renounce. Tony Benn was the third of four successive generations of the Benn family to become Members of Parliament. The peerage obstructed him from sitting in the House of Commons and his campaign for the right to abandon his peerage was a key factor in the establishment of the Peerage Act 1963. The vial of blood shows his blood is red, just like everyone else's. This vial sits next to a mug given to Benn by a trade union leader and the juxtaposition reflects the heritage that he detached from in order to continually fight for the British public. As does the cardboard box that sits next to Keir Hardie’s chair. Seated on the throne of the everyday man, Tony Benn feels approachable yet regal.
The high detail and inclusion of personal objects makes you feel as if you are sitting in front of Tony Benn himself, as he reads aloud his diary. Tony Benn wrote and published many diaries throughout his life, some sit on the mantlepiece behind him. Alongside these is an image that reads ‘Dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone’: a hymn that could fit many moments of Tony Benn’s life, when conforming would have certainly been easier.
The humble setting of the portrait does not reflect the 'blue blood' from which Tony Benn came, but depicts his socialist views. Andrew Tift manages to let Tony Benn’s prestige shine through and the pedestrian objects only add to this. Just like the collage from the school children of Brookwell Primary school in the background, Andrew Tift has stitched together Tony Benn’s life into a personal montage that reflects his diverse personality.
Annwen Bates , Art UK Development and Communications Officer & Yasmin Scipio, Former Art UK Volunteer
*Tim Jonez, Glastonbury festival: Tony Benn on 'a self-generating community', Guardian, 2007