Harper nude painting sells to B.C. buyer

Nude painting of Stephen Harper for sale on Kijiji
Nude painting of Stephen Harper for sale on Kijiji

Just as its famous political subject did after the recent federal election, “Emperor Haute Couture” will soon be moving west.

The controversial painting by Margaret Sutherland — which depicts former Prime Minister Stephen Harper lounging naked on a chaise — was sold by its previous owner Danielle Potvin of Gatineau, Que., to Frederick Ghahramani of Vancouver on the weekend.

"Every time I look at it I burst out in laughter," Ghahramani tells Yahoo Canada News of his decision to purchase the painting. "But at the same time I know it doesn't come from a funny place."

He admires the work as a piece of "biting satire" that captures a unique and important period in Canadian political history, he says.

"It really effectively captures the mood of a whole group of people in Canada for the last 10 years," Ghahramani says of the painting. "I think it's going to be a Canadian artifact."

Ghahramani is an Iranian-born tech entrepreneur who co-founded the mobile app maker airG Inc. Earlier this fall he criticized the previous government’s anti-terror law Bill C-51 and its sweeping surveillance measures, and earmarked $1 million of his personal funds for organizations fighting the legislation.

“It just feels like I’ve woken up in North Korea and our Dear Leader has eliminated our rights to think and speak and write and do business in private without government oversight,” he told The Canadian Press in October.

Potvin received about a dozen bids for “Emperor Haute Couture,” which she had decided to sell to fund home renovations. It was listed for $8,800 on Kijiji last week. Ghahramani declined to reveal the final price he settled on, but said that the bidding involved parties from the United States and China.

“I am very pleased about this transaction and it was a real pleasure to deal with this gentleman,” Potvin, who originally purchased the painting after it was first exhibited in 2012, tells Yahoo Canada News about its sale.

The painting’s back story, referencing the well-known Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Emperor's New Clothes," was another part of his interest, Ghahramani says, because of its relation to the idea that the subjects were afraid to speak out. Potvin herself kept her identity as the painting’s owner hidden until putting the artwork was on the market, because of concerns related to her job as a public servant. (She has since retired.)

"If that's not demonstrative of what the painting is trying to portray, I don't know what is," Ghahramani says.

Potvin and the buyer agreed that the artist would receive a donation in order to thank her for the work, Potvin says. Ghahramani confirmed he'll be making a donation to Sutherland above and beyond his purchase price for the painting.

As for where "Emperor Haute Couture" will be displayed, Ghahramani plans to contact schools, museums and other institutions across the country that may want to display the work and use it as a discussion point about this political system and this particular period in Canadian history.

"Whoever wants it, I'm happy to get it out there," he says. "I'd like to torture as many Grade 12 students with essay assignments about it as possible."

But while Potvin displayed the painting in her living room, above her couch, it won't find a similarly prominent spot in Ghahramani's home.

"My wife saw it and said, 'Look, there's only room for one pudgy middle-aged guy in this house,'" he says.

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