What's it like to have a painting of Stephen Harper, wearing nothing but an inscrutable smile, hanging over your sofa?
Danielle Potvin knows. The former federal public servant, it turns out, is the secret buyer of Emperor Haute Couture by Kingston, Ont., artist Margaret Sutherland.
The controversial canvas imagines the former prime minister as a reclining nude, a dog at his feet. A coterie of business-suited servants forms the backdrop, one proffering a cup of Tim Hortons coffee on a tray.
'Most of the people are very, very shocked or amused. It's a conversation piece.'
- Emperor Haute Couture owner Danielle Potvin
Potvin purchased the painting in May 2012 for $5,000, when she was still a government employee. Now she's retired and she's ready to part with it. Potvin is hoping to sell it on Kijiji for $8,800 to pay for home renovations.
"I was thinking it was so audacious and very fine political art," said Potvin, sitting beneath the painting in her living room in Gatineau, Que. "Most of the people are very, very shocked or amused. It's a conversation piece."
Potvin kept the purchase a secret from everyone but relatives and close friends after she was warned by her human resources department that "it would be professional suicide to reveal myself as the owner."
That was probably sage advice. The painting sparked a media sensation when it debuted at an exhibition in Kingston. While some saw it as playful political satire evoking both Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Emperor's New Clothes and Édouard Manet's famous nude Olympia, others saw it as a disgraceful insult to the country's prime minister.
"It's kind of brillant, it makes a reference to art history and it also has a very funny sort of almost political cartoon style take on Harper," said Cube Gallery curator Don Monet, who included the artwork in an exhibition of Harper portraits by Canadian artists.
"Now that he's lost power, I think the air is out of the interest in that piece," said Monet. "While Harper is in power there's a lot more interest in paintings or cartoons that are skewering him."
Potvin said she'd like Emperor Haute Couture to be shown in a public space, rather than hidden away in her living room. She said she's already heard from two potential buyers.