(Bloomberg) -- The Bank of England chose the English painter J.M.W. Turner to be the character on its next 20-pound ($29) note after a public nomination process.
“Turner is arguably the single most influential British artist of all time,” BOE Governor Mark Carney said in Margate, U.K., a town the painter often visited. “By depicting characters on our banknotes, we celebrate those who have advanced British thought, spurred innovation, shown exceptional leadership, shaped this diverse society and forged our common values.”
The public process follows an outcry three years ago when Winston Churchill was chosen to replace Elizabeth Fry on a new five-pound note, meaning there would be no historical female figure on any banknotes. The controversy worsened when women lobbying for 19th-century novelist Jane Austen’s image to appear on banknotes were harassed on the internet. Carney subsequently announced in July 2013 that Austen would appear on a new 10-pound note.
A self-portrait of Turner from about 1799 will replace the image of 18th-century Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith on the 20-pound note, which will be made of polymer and introduced into circulation by 2020. The note will also draw on one of the artist’s most famous paintings, ‘The Fighting Temeraire,’ and will include a quote from an 1818 lecture: “Light is therefore color.”
Since Turner rarely signed his works, his signature on the note will be taken from his will.
The choice comes after a two-month public nomination that resulted in 590 possible historical candidates from the field of visual arts. The BOE’s Banknote Character Advisory Committee, a panel of cultural experts led by Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent, produced a shortlist and Carney made the final choice.
The other four names on the shortlist were filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, painter William Hogarth, and designer Josiah Wedgwood.
The governor unveiled the choice on Friday at a press conference alongside British artist Tracey Emin at the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate.
The U.S. has also opened the selection process of banknote characters to the public after criticism about a lack of diversity. The Treasury Department said this week that the abolitionist Harriet Tubman will appear on the front of the $20 bill, becoming the first woman and first minority featured on U.S. paper currency in modern times. The Swiss National Bank this month unveiled its new 50-franc ($51) note, the first in a series that features nature rather than portraits of famous men and women.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, an English Romanticist landscape painter who was born in 1775 and died in 1851, is regarded as one of the U.K.’s most important pre-20th Century artists. One of the few works by Turner held in a private collection sold for 30.3 million pounds ($43.7 million) in 2014, the first time the painting had come to market in more than 130 years and setting an auction record for the painter.
In helping to choose the character for the new 20-pound note, the BOE’s committee was assisted by three experts in the field of visual arts: John Akomfrah, Alice Rawsthorn, and Andrew Graham-Dixon.
The BOE will start the switch to polymer banknotes this year with the new five-pound Churchill note. The notes are more resistant to damage and more difficult to counterfeit. Other countries using the material include Australia, which introduced it in 1988, New Zealand and Carney’s native Canada.
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