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The 100,000 Lira bill, featuring Caravaggio (via Wikipedia)

The Bank of England has announced that a visual artist will grace the new £20 bill. It’s up to the British public to nominate artists of “historical significance,” the Guardian reports. Candidates must be dead, British, non-fictional, and may include “architects, artists, ceramicists, craftspeople, designers, fashion designers, filmmakers, photographers, printmakers and sculptors,” according to the Bank of England’s nomination page. The deadline for nominations is July 19. The new note will come out by 2020, though the artist selection should be announced by next spring.

The newest £20 bill (photo by Petr Kratochvil, via Wikimedia Commons) (click to enlarge)

According to the International Business Times, bookies taking bets on who will prevail favor Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon among the visual artists competing for the honor — both have 25 to 1 odds. Meanwhile the odds for contemporary favorites Banksy and David Hockney, both of whom clearly violate the requirement that nominated artists be dead, are 100 to 1.

The Bank of England’s move is not unprecedented. Until 2011, Denmark, which still uses its native krone, displayed two painters, Anna and Michael Ancher, on the 1,000 krone note. And before European national currencies were replaced by the euro, many boasted banknotes with major artistic figures. The Italian contingent was especially impressive: Raphael appeared on the 500,000 lira note, Caravaggio appeared on the 100,000 lira note, and Bernini appeared on the 50,000 lira note.

Perhaps most impressively of all, Canadians recently elected en masse to “Spock” their $5 bills to honor the late Leonard Nimoy. “Spocking” is a practice that consists in drawing the features of Star Trek’s Dr. Spock on the face of Sir Wilfred Laurier, a former Prime Minister of Canada and the actual face on the bill. We can only hope the British will come up with something as inventive.

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Becca Rothfeld

Becca Rothfeld is assistant literary editor of The New Republic and a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Daily News’ literary blog, The Baffler, and Slate, among other publications. She...

4 replies on “Which Artist Will Grace the UK’s New £20 Bill?”

  1. I’m sure Hirst or his dealers are lobbying hard for it to be him. Same with Emin. Personally, I’d like to see Gainsborough. Though it will probably be Freud, Constable, or Bacon. It just depends on how much they will capitulate to modernity coming first. If its Bacon or Freud, though, you can be pretty sure Hirst will get his own bill before he dies.

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