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Harper Nude Painting By Margaret Sutherland Sold, Artist Shares Her Thoughts

If you had dreams of owning Margaret Sutherland's Stephen Harper nude, it's time to put them behind you.

The woman behind the now-famous painting of the PM told The Huffington Post Canada on Tuesday the work has been sold.

The Edward Day Gallery in Toronto, which represents Sutherland, confirmed on Wednesday the painting has been bought for $5,000 and is headed to the province of Quebec. The buyer wishes to remain anonymous.

Gallery owner Mary Sue Rankin said that despite the influx of interested buyers after last week's media attention, a decision was made to sell at the original price to the first in line.

Rankin said seeing the painting end up on postcards would be "usurious" and would send the "absolutely wrong message to the audience," pointing to the fact that the piece came straight from Sutherland's heart.

Sutherland told HuffPost that she found inspiration for "Emperor Haute Couture", which she completed in early 2011, from the lack of dissent and representation by women in the Tory Cabinet at that time.

"It's called the Harper Government right and we have the one person out in front and the others are supposed to recede into the background and sing the party song as one voice. You don't get the feeling they're making individual decisions," Sutherland said.

The Kingston-based artist also pointed to the symbolism of the single woman amid the faceless suits as a commentary on the politics of the Tory minority government. "There were very few women in the cabinet and they weren't having an easy time of it."

"Between Helena Guergis and Bev Oda it wasn't going well. Actually the purple jacket on the female figure is a reference to [Bev Oda]. I was going through the net one day and noticed Bev has a penchant for purple."

Sutherland said Oda's infamous hotel spending spree perfectly fits with the symbolism of the Tim Horton's coffee cup served on a china platter to Harper in the painting. "When it's served in the painting to a member of the ruling elite it unfortunately has to be served on a china plate ... that's unfortunately what happens when people get into power, it's not good enough anymore and suddenly it's not good enough to be staying at the Sheraton for your conference you have to stay at the Savoy."

While Harper hasn't directly commented on the painting, his director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, responded on Twitter with humour. “We're not impressed. Everyone knows the PM is a cat person,” MacDougall wrote last week.

Sutherland said while it's nice to see the Tories have a sense of humour, they may be using it to "diffuse criticism."

"I use humour in one way they use it in another."

As for the dog, Sutherland said she modelled it after her own canine companion and that she chose not to use a cat because that was what Manet used in his 19th-century painting, Olympia, the inspiration for the Harper portrait.

While Sutherland was candid about her negative feelings regarding the current government, she said she took pains to be fair to Harper in her depiction. "Well it was a fine line to tread, I had to use my imagination [laughs]."

"I tried not to be overly one way or the other, I guess I just went a neutral path on that because I know I could have easily changed him from David to Jabba the Hut with a stroke of the brush."

When asked if any other Canadian politicians are likely to get the David treatment in the near future, Sutherland said she has no plans for more political nudes.

But if she did have to paint another politico in the buff, she said Defence Minister Peter MacKay would make a good choice. "It certainly wouldn't be for his visibilty, it's more for his six pack I think," Sutherland said.

As for what Canadians should take away from all the "mystifying" attention for her work, Sutherland took a page from Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Emperor's New Clothes," which inspired the painting's title.

"Don't believe simply what you're told, use your own senses and make up your own mind."

Harper Nude & Other Paintings
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