A “powerful” portrait of leading forensic anthropologist Oxford Professor Dame Sue Black has been acquired for the nation.

The painting by Ken Currie, titled Unknown Man, shows Ms Black, who is the current president of St John’s College, in surgical robes standing behind the covered remains of a body.

It has been on long loan to the National Galleries of Scotland since 2021 but has now been secured for the nation permanently and is on show at Portrait in Edinburgh.

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The idea for the portrait developed after Mr Currie and Ms Black met during a BBC Radio 4 discussion on the relationship between art and anatomy.

Mr Currie later visited the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, where Ms Black was director, and was so moved by the work he encountered there that he asked her to sit for a portrait.

thisisoxfordshire: Professor Dame Sue Black

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “We are delighted to have acquired this powerful and moving work which has already generated a lot of interest and comment from our visitors.

“The Portrait gallery provides the perfect setting for this outstanding painting, which now has a permanent home alongside other images of pioneers in the fields of science, sport and the arts.”

Ms Black regularly assists police with specialist forensic work and has also worked as a consultant in forensic anthropology for both the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, carrying out forensic investigations in Sierra Leone, Iraq and Grenada.

The professor was also the lead forensic anthropologist during the international war crimes investigations in Kosovo.

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She said: “It was such a wonderful experience to work with Ken and I am so grateful that the portrait has been so well received, even if it is a bit scary.

“I feel honoured that this has been acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland and secured for the nation permanently.

“It all feels more than a little surreal.”

thisisoxfordshire: St John's College on St Giles, Oxford. Picture: Google Maps

The title Unknown Man relates to the essential aim of a forensic anthropologist, to identify remains and restore the identity of the deceased while also referencing the covered body depicted in the painting.

Mr Currie said: “I am delighted that Unknown Man has been acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland and will continue to hang in the Portrait gallery, where it will hopefully inspire a new generation of young women to follow in the illustrious footsteps of Sue Black.”

The artist has another work in the national collection, Three Oncologists.

The 2002 painting depicts three professors who were leading innovators in cancer research at the University of Dundee and its affiliated teaching hospital, Ninewells.

Unknown Man was purchased with assistance from the Heinz Fund, Art Fund and Vivienne and Robin Menzies.

Jenny Waldman, director of the Art Fund, said: “I’m so pleased that Art Fund has been able to support the National Galleries of Scotland to acquire this important painting.

“I am sure that it will continue to delight and inspire visitors to the Portrait gallery for many years to come.”