Gina Rinehart portrait: Gallery faces growing pressure to remove unflattering painting of billionaire

An Australian art gallery is facing growing pressure to remove a controversial portrait – with some of the country's elite swimmers unexpectedly getting involved in the row.

Vincent Namatjira's painting of billionaire Gina Rinehart is currently on display at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, as part of a satirical collection of portraits by the indigenous artist, titled Australia in Colour.

With its double chin and unusual expression, the painting portrays Australia's richest woman in what some might say is an unflattering light.

Mrs Rinehart has reportedly petitioned for the artwork to be removed from the gallery and now, Australian Olympian Kyle Chalmers is one of several sports stars to have backed her plea.

Mrs Rinehart has paid more than $40m in sponsorship to Swimming Queensland and her company has a support scheme which helps pay their wages, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Chalmers told the paper how discussion about the portrait dominated behind the scenes at Australia's national championships last month.

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He said: "I think she just deserves to be praised and looked upon definitely a lot better than what the portraits have made her out to be. Without her sponsorship, we would actually have nothing."

Chalmers and Swimming Queensland chief executive Kevin Hasemann reportedly got together a group of 20 Australian swimmers to campaign against the painting - and another of Mrs Rinehart that hangs in the gallery.

Mr Hasemann wrote to the National Gallery's director to say the portraits are "of deep concern to us because they are offensive" to the billionaire.

"We respectfully urge you to reconsider the inclusion of these portraits in your galleries," he added.

Mrs Rinehart has not publicly commented on the painting.

'You don't have to like my paintings'

In a statement earlier this week, the gallery said it "welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays", Australia's ABC News reported.

It continued: "We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art."

Artist Mr Namatjira has also addressed the furore, saying: "People don't have to like my paintings, but I hope they take the time to look and think, 'why has this Aboriginal bloke painted these powerful people? What is he trying to say?'"

"I paint people who are wealthy, powerful, or significant - people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad."

Australia in Colour also features paintings of the King, the late Queen Elizabeth II and former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.