Now that Stephen Harper has moved out of 24 Sussex Drive, a controversial painting of the former prime minister is also looking for a new home.
“I don’t really see it anymore because I’m used to it,” Potvin tells Yahoo Canada News about the large political painting, which measures about three feet by four and sits above the couch in her living room. “I wish it was in a public place so people could come and see it instead of my living room, really.”
The painting is listed on the online classifieds site for $8,800, and the listing says it comes along with a signature book and press clippings binder.
Potvin purchased the painting for $5,000 plus taxes in June 2012 from a Toronto gallery. She kept her identity as the buyer hidden until now because she was worried that her ownership of the artwork could cause her problems in her job as a civil servant, considering the controversy that surrounded the piece when Sutherland first revealed it in 2012.
“I decided to keep quiet and I don’t really regret it,” says Potvin, who is now retired. “Now he’s no longer in power and I think it remains a good piece of political art. We don’t have a lot of political art in Canada.”
The painting was first displayed at a public library in Kingston, Ont., as part of a juried exhibit, and the controversy kicked off quickly. It’s been the subject of a human rights complaint against the Kingston Frontenac Library from an Alberta man who said the painting was “a complete form of sexual harassment to me, my family and to all Canadians.” The complaint was later dismissed.
The artist herself told media in 2012 that her painting was a satire, meant as a criticism and expression of her frustration with the policies of the federal government at the time. Sutherland is the only woman in the painting, the faceless woman in a suit offering Harper a Tim Hortons coffee.
The painting’s title references the well-known Hans Christian Andersen story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in which a vain emperor ends up walking naked in front of his subjects because of his refusal to admit the obvious about the non-existent “clothes” a trickster has sold him.
“I read about this painting on Google News and I was not shocked, but I was astonished to see that someone was brave enough to paint our prime minister naked,” Potvin says of her initial reaction to the artwork. “I thought it was a very intelligent way to capture the government we had at the time.”
Now Potvin is selling Emperor Haute Couture to fund renovations to her home. She says she’s been given a value of $10,000 for the work, but hopes to sell it quickly by pricing it a bit lower — and has interest from a couple of potential buyers so far.
She did inquire with Tim Hortons to see if it would d like to have the piece to display at its headquarters, Potvin says, but it wasn’t interested.
But considering the strong reaction some have had to the artwork, Potvin says she admires the low-key way the subject himself handled it.
Harper’s only response to his revealing artistic depiction was a 2012 tweet from then-spokesperson Andrew MacDougall that read “we’re not impressed. Everyone knows the PM is a cat person.”