As It Happens

Bidding war for nude painting of former PM Stephen Harper

A retired public servant has put the controversial portrait, Emperor Haute Couture, up for sale on Kijiji.
'Emperor Haute Couture' by Margaret Sutherland. (CBC)

A bidding war has begun for Emperor Haute Couture, since the owner of the controversial painting put it up for sale on Kijiji.

Emperor Haute Couture is like a lot of nudes; a naked figure reclines on a chaise lounge, the face is turned to smile, inscrutably, towards the viewer. That face, however, is former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's. That had Emperor Haute Couture making national news when Kingston artist Margaret Sutherland first sold it three years ago. 

It's quite audacious.- Danielle Potvin

Since then it's been hanging, secretly, in the living room of recently-retired federal bureaucrat Danielle Potvin. Since Potvin put Emperor Haute Couture up for sale online, there has been a lot of interest and now a bidding war. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Danielle Potvin about the painting. Here is an excerpt from their conversation:

Carol Off: What's it been like to have an image of the former Prime Minister hanging naked on your living room wall for the past three years? 

Danielle Potvin: It's been quite exciting, because when people come by my house, they're very amused by it. But when I start talking about it, they understand that there's more than the nudity of it. There's quite profound political art, a very interesting piece of art, so it's fun to all!

CO: But why naked? 

Artist Margaret Sutherland (left) poses with her painting and the buyer, now-retired civil servant Danielle Potvin. (Danielle Potvin)

DP: You know...mon dieu... [Hans Christian] Anderson's little story, the Emperor Without Clothes? That was her [artist Margaret Sutherland's] reference to it... People are afraid to tell him he's nude, so they tell him what he wants to hear... We had also a climate of fear. 

CO: At the time, you were a civil servant, you were in the government, so you were possibly one of those people in that vague background. Did you tell people at work that you had this painting? 

DP: No, just a couple of close friends. I went to see staff relations, to ask them if I should have my name released, and they strongly advised I shouldn't, that it would not be a good professional move. I don't know what kind of professional repercussions this could have had, but you don't want to take a chance, and we're supposed to be impartial. 

'Emperor Haute Couture' hangs above the couch in the living room of former owner, Danielle Potvin of Gatineau, Que. (CBC)

CO: You paid $5000 for it, what are you hoping to get?

DP: The price on Kijiji was $8800, but now there's a little kind of bidding war going on, in fact there was a message just a couple of minutes ago from Alberta, and that person is offering $9750, so it went up... so I don't know! 

"I didn't mind keeping this a secret. In fact, it was fun to have a secret." -Danielle Potvin 

CO: Do you have a preference, any place in particular where you'd like the painting live?

DP: Yes, I think it belongs in a museum because it's not fair that people come and see here the painting in my living room, or anyone else's living room. I think it belongs to the Canadian public, whether they like it or not, I think it's... a snapshot in time of someone's feelings, frustrations over that government, whether it's right or wrong, it's political art, I think it would deserve a public space. 

To hear the full interview, click "Listen" above 


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