The controversial Russian painting of Barney Crockett has sparked incredulity on social media and reignited a row over the expensive tradition.
Earlier this year, Aberdeen’s Lord Provost came under fire when it emerged he paid £8,000 for a Moscow artist to immortalise his likeness when he was on a trip there.
On Wednesday morning, we exclusively unveiled the finished work.
The image sent jaws dropping at breakfast tables across the north-east, and has now led to renewed calls for the custom to be axed.
Everyone’s a critic…
The work was commissioned before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, claiming thousands of innocent lives.
It depicts a contemplative Crockett in his ceremonial chains next to Marischal College, backed by the Scottish flag and the ensign of the Russian Navy.
On Twitter, SNP MSP Jackie Dunbar said the painting would “have no place in the Aberdeen City Council chambers”.
And SNP councillor John Cooke scoffed at the explanation that it was done in Russia due to high portrait prices in Scotland.
He tweeted: “Many ordinary Aberdonians will sympathise with the LP about the rocketing price of portraits. Not.”
How @LordProvostAbdn Crockett thought an official portrait with the Russian Navy flag was acceptable, only he knows.
— Jackie Dunbar MSP (@JackieDunbarSNP) May 4, 2022
Barney Crockett painting sparks condemnation and incredulity
Mr Crockett previously said the portrait had been arranged to bolster economic relations with Russia given Aberdeen’s oil economy.
But while many criticised the desire to befriend Russia, distrusted on the international stage long before the current conflict, others were left puzzling over the likeness of Mr Crockett.
The painting was crafted by George Dmitriev, known for his seascapes.
SNP MP for Aberdeen South, Stephen Flynn, said the kilt-clad figure rendered looks “absolutely nothing like” Barney Crockett.
He also blasted the “background being a Russian Naval ensign”, and the £8,000 cost to the public purse.
Mr Flynn, delighting in his political rival’s misfortune, later added a series of images comparing Mr Crockett’s painting to an infamously askew statue of Cristiano Ronaldo.
— Stephen Flynn MP (@StephenFlynnSNP) May 4, 2022
Barney Crockett painting branded ‘bizarre’
Paul Gall took to Facebook to express his thoughts.
He said: “I think I may have entered some kind of parallel universe.
“Sky News on in the background reporting on seaborne cruise missile strikes from the Black Sea.
“I look at today’s P&J online and there is a portrait of Aberdeen’s Lord Provost standing next to what seems to be the Russian Naval Battle Group flag… Bizarre to say the least.”
Did artist ‘paint someone else’?
With the benefit of hindsight, Kevin Rinchey tweeted that the finished artwork might have been better had it been done locally.
He joked: “It’s more likely they would have recognised him and not painted someone else.”
Commenting on the Press and Journal’s Facebook page, some came to the embattled Lord Provost’s defence.
Richard Colvin asked: “What’s controversial about it? Is there are new McCarthyism now about having anything to do with Russia?”
Scott Fraser wondered “did Putin paint it?”
And what do the experts say?
The Press and Journal consulted an Aberdeen painter with years of experience for a professional opinion.
He said: “It’s sensitively executed but it falls short of a likeness of Barney.
“It makes him look 10 years older.
“The hands are good, but it can be harder to paint faces – one mistake can cause the whole thing to fall flat.
“The background is kind of insipid and it lacks the quality of the other Lord Provost portraits in the Town House, it lacks their dynamism and vivacity.
“There are many local artists who could have done a much better job.
“I don’t want to be too critical, but if you fail to capture the likeness then it defeats the purpose.. ”
Portrait of a Lord Provost under fire
Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill has previously advocated getting a photograph taken of Lord Provosts rather than commissioning an expensive portrait.
Today, Mr Yuill said: “We have thought this for some time, it would show the council is moving with the times and be substantially less expensive.
“The money could be used to support groups in the city, portraits are nice but that £10,000 can be better spent.”
Why did Barney Crockett insist on painting?
Arguing in favour of maintaining the custom in 2019, Mr Crockett said its demise would send out a “sad” message that the council is “so pathetically poor that we can’t afford to keep up a centuries-old tradition”.
He added: “With the town house opening up to more visitors and tourism being a priority, I think this is one convention that needs to be maintained.”
The veteran Labour councillor told us the portrait remains “very much in the deep freeze long term”.