The richest woman in Australia has asked the Canberra National Gallery of Australia to remove a painting of her that was created by the artist Vincent Namatjira. 

It was not immediately clear why Gina Rinehart made such a request. However, it was apparent that Namatjira’s portrait was being viewed as an unkind representation of Rinehart.

The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald used the word “unflattering” when describing the picture, which pictures Rinehart’s complexion as a pinkish color, but exaggerates the folds of her chin and turns her lips down into a frown.

The painting is one of nearly twenty-four portraits in Namatjira’s display at the museum and has traveled from the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. Namatjira is a well-known and beloved artist in Australia and was the first Indigenous artist to receive the Australian Archibald Prize for portraiture in 2020.

In contrast, Rinehart has earned her fortune in the mining business and is presently the chairwoman of Hancock Prospecting. She has made national headlines for numerous controversies, including her decision to stop funding a netball team after an Indigenous team member asked to not have the Hancock Prospecting logo featured on her uniform.

A report by the Sydney Morning Herald in April indicated that Rinehart had personally asked NGA director Nick Mitzevic and NGA chair Ryan Stokes to remove the Namatjira portrait. The museum, which declined to do so, said in a statement that “The National Gallery welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays.”

Though the reasons for Rinehart’s request remain unknown, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Hancock Prospecting Associates have complained that the museum is “doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party.” Rinehart has also spoken highly of the Chinese government.

While many have viewed the situation as an example of a billionaire’s refusal to understand art, Mark Di Stefano from the Australian Financial Review wrote: “My goodness, get a grip. Rinehart seems to want everything that comes with money and power, and influence, but without the other bits. She talks endlessly about being a proud Australian, but can’t bring herself to having a laugh, or taking the piss, both central to the said national myth.”

Namatjira, who is a painter from Indulkana in South Australia, has established himself as an artist of subversive and witty portraits. He is the great-grandson of the renowned Western Aranda watercolor artist Albert Namatjira and has been painting portraits of important figures, both personally familiar and famously political, since 2013. His imagery often calls upon Australia’s colonial history and regularly features reoccurring references to Captain Cook, the British Royal family, as well as contemporary aspects of Indigenous life. 

Namatjira was the winner of the 2019 Ramsay Art Prize and was also the recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) 2020 in honor of his contribution to Indigenous visual arts. 

As the controversy unfolds, the conversation about the role of art in society and its power to provoke thought continues to ignite debates across Australia.