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United Kingdom Government Art Reveals Ministers' Nostalgic Tastes

LONDON (AP).- It's a tricky question for a British politician — which of the government's thousands of pieces of art do you put on your wall?

When it comes to paintings, members of Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition favor landscapes, battle scenes and portraits of their illustrious predecessors.

The government art collection holds more than 13,000 works by British artists from the 16th century onwards, including pieces by Hans Holbein, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Many are in storage, while others adorn government buildings and British embassies.

A lawmaker has published a complete list of works that ministers have chosen from the government's vast art collection to hang in their offices.

Obtained by opposition Labour Party legislator Tom Watson under freedom of information legislation, it show that the new government has more conservative tastes than those of the previous Labour administration, which championed conceptual "Young British Artists" like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

"Most of our ministers are harking back to a bygone age where everyone knew their place," Watson said Thursday.

Welfare Minister Iain Duncan Smith, a former army officer, has decorated his office with half a dozen depictions of historic battles, while junior defense minister Andrew Robothan has selected portraits of military icons Adm. Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Kitchener, alongside scenes of the Battle of the Nile and the Spanish Armada.

Several ministers have chosen portraits of politicians from bygone centuries, including prime ministers Robert Peel and William Pitt, and scenes of the buildings around Parliament.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his junior minister Ed Vaizey fly the flag for modernity with works by contemporary British artists including Emin, Mark Wallinger and Yinka Shonibare.

Energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne has a watercolor of Antarctic icebergs by David Smith — perhaps to remind him what is at stake in his job.

And Treasury chief George Osborne reveals a sense of humor with Grayson Perry's "Print for a Politician." The work by Perry — a Turner Prize winner who also makes appearances as his alter ego Claire — is a 7 foot-long (2.1-meter-long) etching of a war-scarred land.

Next year an exhibition at London's Whitechapel Gallery will put some of the works on public display together for the first time.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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