A painter, sculptor or designer will be the face of the next £20 note and the Bank of England is calling on the public to have their say.
The Bank is asking the public to nominate “people of historic significance” from the world of the visual arts, although the final decision will be made by the governor, Mark Carney.
The public have two months to choose their candidates. As well as painters and sculptors, the category includes fashion designers, film directors, ceramicists or architects. Living people and fictional characters are barred.
The final decision will be announced in spring 2016 and the new note is expected to go into circulation by 2020.
Announcing the public consultation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Carney urged the public to think beyond “the most famous and the most obvious”.
He continued: “Banknotes are the principal way the Bank of England engages with the British public.” Noting that the bank issued its first banknotes in 1694 to pay for the war against France, Carney said: “These sparse pieces of paper from the 17th century have developed over the years to become the small works of art that are in everyone’s wallets.”
“There are a wealth of individuals within the field of visual arts whose work shaped British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society and who continue to inspire people today. I greatly look forward to hearing from the public who they would like to celebrate.”
The unprecedented public consultation – which will involve school visits and focus groups led by the Bank’s chief cashier, Victoria Cleland – will be the first test of Threadneedle Street’s new process for choosing banknote characters.
Carney overhauled the process in 2013, following a high-profile campaign to ensure that women, apart from the Queen, remained on banknotes, after the Bank decided to phase out the Elizabeth Fry £5 note.
That campaign led to Jane Austen being chosen for the next £10 note, which will go into circulation in 2017, a year after the Winston Churchill £5 note.
William Shakespeare was the first historical figure to feature on a British banknote, 1970. Since then notes have featured Charles Dickens, the Duke of Wellington, Charles Darwin and Sir John Houblon, the first governor of the Bank of England. Ththe architect Sir Christopher Wren has featured, but neither a painter nor sculptor has ever been chosen.
The art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon is a member of the Bank’s independent panel of experts advising on banknote characters. He said the decision to choose a figure from the art-world was long over due.
He said “adventurous, innovative” painters such as John Constable and JMW Turner had paved the way for modern artists: “The history of the British artist is the history of misunderstood genius.”
These two artists are likely to emerge as popular choices, while other names mooted include William Blake or George Stubbs.
Prof David Solkin, dean of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and one of world’s leading authorities on the history of British art, said: “Blake would be a good choice. He’s not the most obvious, but is also famous for his poetry, his work beyond his art. He’s someone whose influence has persisted and is in the public consciousness – we still sing Jerusalem. Most people will know him.
“Joshua Reynolds on the other hand may not be the most popular artist, but he was the first president of the Royal Academy, he is the founding father of the British school.
“My choice would be Joseph Wright of Derby, far less obvious but one of the most interesting British artists of the last 300 years, who has a presence in all the national collections. Though Turner is, of course, the most obvious.”
After the public consultation closes on 19 July, a panel of experts will draw up a shortlist of eight names, which will be tested in focus groups. This list will then be whittled down to three-five names for the governor to choose from.