CAMPAIGNERS have criticised Southampton culture chiefs for welcoming an exhibition of pictures of inspirational writers while shutting a city library.

Southampton is to host the touring display featuring a world-famous portrait of William Shakespeare never before seen outside London.

The Chandos portrait, named after a previous owner, is usually housed in the National Portrait Gallery and is considered to be the only portrait of Shakespeare painted from life.

But the announcement of the exhibition, titled Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to JK Rowling, comes as Tory councillors voted to shut a library on the Millbrook estate.

Labour libraries spokesman Councillor Derek Burke said: “It just shows they are not thinking straight. It’s sound a great exhibition but then they’re going to close a library where people have got a chance to learn about and read the works of these writers.

Once it’s gone it’s very difficult to get them back.”

Lib Dem campaigner David Callaghan added: “It is really ironic that this exhibition is coming to the city at a time when Millbrook Library is set to close.

“It shows once again how short-sighted the Conservatives are. How will closing a library help the education of children in Southampton?”

Tory cabinet member for culture John Hannides said: “Southampton City Council is delighted that the ‘Chandos’ portrait of William Shakespeare is coming to the City’s Art Gallery.

"This is an extraordinary painting and we hope that it encourages many more visitors to Southampton’s Art Gallery and enjoy not only this work but the many impressive artworks we have on display."

He said the library had to be demolished to make way for the redevelopment of the Cumbrian Way shopping parade.

A mobile library would be brought in while ten maisonettes, ten shops, and offices are knocked down to make way for 56 houses and flats.

He said a survey found a library was not a high priority for Millbrook residents but pledged to consult them again about putting a library in one of four new shop units.

The painting will be included in an exhibition of 61 writers’ portraits throughout the ages.

The exhibition will feature portraits of Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, Agatha Christie, John Lennon, JK Rowling and David Bowie.

It opens at Southampton City Art Gallery on July 23.