GARDAí are on the hunt for an anonymous prankster who hung a nude portrait of Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the hallowed halls of the National Gallery.
The still unidentified renegade artist had painted Cowen as he was sitting on the loo with a roll of toilet paper in his hand. The painter's attempts at lifting the country's spirits certainly worked as dozens of visitors to the gallery last week were left chuckling at the unorthodox artwork.
One woman commented: "Well, at least that is one mess he has been able to clean up."
The bizarre prank began earlier this month when the artist calmly walked in the front entrance of the National Gallery carrying a shoulder bag.
He perused a number of rooms before making his way to the National Portrait Collection of the National Gallery, which features paintings of Ireland's most famous citizens.
The unidentified artist first stuck up a prepared caption for the artwork, which matched up exactly with the explanatory notes for the painting.
It read: "Brian Cowen, Politician, 1960-2008. This portrait, acquired uncommissioned by the National Gallery, celebrates one of the finest politicians produced by Ireland since the foundation of the state.
"Following a spell at the helm of the Department of Finance during a period of unprecedented prosperity, Brian Cowen inherited the office [of] Taoiseach in 2008.
"Balancing a public image that ranges from fantastically intelligent analytical thinker to big ignorant f**ker from Offaly, the Taoiseach proves to be a challenging subject to represent."
He then went on to hang the portrait of Cowen, sitting naked with a roll of toilet paper in his hand. The unflattering picture hung for over an hour and hundreds of patrons of the gallery passed it believing it to be a genuine part of the collection.
The National Portraits Collection consists of around 50 paintings of famous Irish people including modern celebrities such as Bono and Gay Byrne along with historical figures like Michael Collins and William Butler Yeats.
When the prank painting was spotted by security staff, they immediately took it down and brought it to the attention of gallery management. Gardaí from nearby Pearse Street station were called to the scene where they examined the portrait and CCTV footage.
Bemused officers told management, however, that it was unlikely the rogue artist had committed any type of criminal offence.
It later emerged that the mystery painter had hung a second nude portrait of Cowen holding only a pair of y-fronts in the nearby RHA Gallery on Saturday afternoon.
A National Gallery source said: "It wasn't a question of having vandalised or damaged any of the paintings, just adding another one to the collection.
"It was obviously something that had been planned for a long time as the frame of the painting and the caption had been matched closely to portraits already there."
A statement from the National Gallery said: "The gallery does not allow unauthorised displays. One can only surmise that it was an action by someone seeking to use the gallery for self-promotion or other reasons."