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Gina Rinehart tried to hide her portrait – it went global instead

If Gina Rinehart was trying to make sure no one saw a portrait of her, recent moves have had the opposite effect.

Last week, media – including Guardian Australia – reported that Australia’s richest woman had demanded the National Gallery of Australia remove a portrait of her. The painting by the artist Vincent Namatjira is one of numerous portraits on display at the Canberra gallery in Namatjira’s first major survey exhibition.

Related: Gina Rinehart demands National Gallery of Australia remove her portrait

But the NGA rebuffed her demands – and news of her request has meant the portrait has been seen by many more eyes than it would have otherwise.

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Rinehart appears to have fallen victim to the “Streisand effect”, a term coined after Barbra Streisand launched a lawsuit in 2003 to try to remove an aerial photo of her California beach house from an online collection. Streisand’s attempt to suppress the image led to almost half a million people visiting the ­Pictopia site to view the photo within a month.

A similar thing seems to have happened with Rinehart. The NGA told Guardian Australia in a statement that there had been a “noticeable increase” in visitors to the national gallery as well as its digital channels over the past week.

Google trends has also given us a sweeping indicator of the worldwide gain in traction of the search term “Gina Rinehart”.

Interactive

Before 15 May – the day the first stories about Rinehart’s portrait demand was published – interest in Rinehart on Google was at roughly 0, meaning there was not enough search data on the term.

But after the news broke, search interest picked up, with “Gina Rinehart” hitting peak popularity two days later.

A week later, interest lingered.

Interactive

Australia and New Zealand were the top two regions searching “Gina Rinehart”. But interest in the drama has gone global, with Austria, Ireland and Slovenia in the top five.

Rinehart’s painting has featured in media around the world. The New York Post jumped on the story on 16 May, as did CNN and the Mirror UK.

BBC, the Hindustan Times and South China Morning Post followed suit with coverage on 17 May.

Rinehart and her portrait even got a mention on US talkshow The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“A billionaire has called for the removal of an unflattering portrait of her,” Colbert said in a segment on The Late Show. “I mean, come on. How unflattering could this portrait possibly be,” he starts, before taking a look at the painting.

“OK, I’ve got to say, um, I’m no art expert, but in this portrait, I believe the artist really captured her expression at the moment she saw this portrait.”

A Time magazine headline summarised the situation perfectly just a day after Rinehart’s demand: “An Australian Billionaire Tried to Suppress an Aboriginal Artist’s Unflattering Portrait of Her. It’s Only Drawn More Attention.”

After the news of Rinehart’s demand, Namatjira put out a statement.

“I paint the world as I see it,” the Archibald prize-winning artist said. “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?’”

Meanwhile, Rinehart’s website features a portrait by an unnamed local artist “depicting Mrs Rinehart in her preferred environment” – a soft smile playing upon the mining magnate’s lips as she gazes away from a field of bright buds and the rolling Pilbara hills. (This one is less ruddy-chubby-cheeked, more easy-breezy-beautiful).

But which portrait would make it to a billboard? The Australian presenter and comedian Dan Ilic wants to display Namatjira’s portrait in New York’s Times Square – and he has already crowdfunded $17,000 of the $30,000 goal to make it happen.