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New Portrait of Dame Anne Owers by Diarmuid Kelley Unveiled at National Portrait Gallery
Dame Anne Owers by Diarmuid Kelley, 2010. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

LONDON.- A new portrait of Dame Anne Owers by prize-winning artist, Diarmuid Kelley, has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Dame Anne was the first woman to hold the post of H M Chief Inspector of Prisons (2001–10) and spoke out against prison overcrowding, the over-use of prisons to house those who are mentally ill, and the introduction of ‘titan’ jails.

The portrait, depicting Dame Anne’s head and shoulders, was painted from life at Kelley’s London studio over a number of months. He initially accompanied Dame Anne on a prison inspection where he gained an awareness of the challenges she faced as Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a valuable insight into her personality. Kelley began with three sketches of different poses before deciding to focus on the face of Dame Anne, whom he had got to know better through conversations during sittings. The apparent contemplation and quietness of the portrait reflects the sitter’s unassuming air, but her empathy and determination can also be read in her expression.

A campaigner for human rights, Dame Anne (b.1947) was previously the director of the law reform organisation JUSTICE (1992-2001) which helped to establish the Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate possible miscarriages of justice. She has also held the position of general secretary of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants, and has been a member of several community and race relations commissions. She is the chair of Christian Aid, one of the UK’s leading development agencies, and is currently chairing a review of the Northern Ireland prison system. She has recently become chair of the charity Clinks, which supports community and voluntary groups working with offenders. Owers became a Dame in the Queen’s New Year Honours list in 2008 in recognition of her services to the Criminal Justice System. This recognition came in addition to a CBE awarded in 2000 for her work in a range of voluntary and public posts.

Diarmuid Kelley (b. 1972) studied fine art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Chelsea College of Art. His work has been in numerous group and solo exhibitions in London, and he is a regular exhibitor in the BP Portrait Award. He has won a number of awards including the National Westminster Bank Young Artists Competition and was a runner–up in the BP Portrait Award 1995 at the age of 23.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London says: ‘Diarmuid Kelley’s portrait of Dame Anne Owers is the latest J.P. Morgan commission. It is a telling study of a woman who has made an exceptional contribution to penal reform.’

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