An official portrait of former prime minister Joseph Muscat was commissioned and quietly installed at the Auberge de Castille several months ago. 

The oil on canvas, by artist Patrick Dalli, was added to the paintings of past premiers in the cabinet room.

But, unlike the unveiling of his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi’s portrait, no official announcement was made.

The painting, in which Muscat sits behind his desk, wearing a sky-blue tie on a white shirt and navy suit, now hangs beside the portrait of another former Labour prime minister, Dom Mintoff.

Muscat resigned halfway through his second term in 2019, buckling under growing public pressure from corruption revelations and links between his office and Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Caruana Galizia.

It is understood that arrangements for the commissioning and hanging of the portrait were handled by Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar.

One cabinet source close to Muscat said it was odd how the portrait had been “kept hush”, remarking it was characteristic of the icy relationship between Muscat and his successor, Robert Abela.

The oil on canvas was added to the paintings of past premiers in the cabinet room

“It is odd that this was kept secret, after all, he is a former prime minister like any of the others,” the source said.

Other cabinet insiders played down the fact that it was hung without fanfare. It is customary for prime ministers to have their portrait in the cabinet room, which regularly hosts confidential meetings of ministers as well as visits by dignitaries and foreign heads of state.

The last official portrait to be hung in the cabinet room is of former PN leader Gonzi and was installed two years after he lost the 2013 general election.

At that time, various official announcements were made and a picture of the portrait released to the media.

Although these portraits are usually paid for by the government, Gonzi’s portrait, painted by artist Philippa Bianchi, was covered by private donors and handed over as a gift.

Times of Malta asked for a picture of the portrait and why its installation had never been announced. 

In response, the Office of the Prime Minister said: “Portraits of all prime ministers since Malta’s self-government line the walls of the cabinet room.

“For the portraits of Gonzi and Muscat, the work was coordinated by the outgoing prime ministers.

“In both cases, the portraits were donated to the state at no cost and are now part of the country’s collection.”

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