A portrait of health advocate and former trade union president Helen Kelly has been hung alongside artwork of other prominent Kiwis at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in the capital.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown presented the portrait to Ms Kelly at a function at the gallery yesterday afternoon.

Mayor Wade-Brown described Ms Kelly as "a strident campaigner for social justice" and a "passionate Wellingtonian" who "deserves to be recognised for the great work she's achieved in the Capital for so many New Zealanders".

Since being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer 18 months ago, Ms Kelly has become a notable campaigner for medical cannabis.

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Her portrait was painted by Lee Robinson and donated by Wellington City. It will be displayed for a few weeks, before becoming part of the gallery's permanent collection, which features portraits of Sir Edmund Hillary, the queen and artist James K Baxter.

Ms Kelly said it was "a great thrill to have a portrait hung in this beautiful gallery in my hometown".

Both Ms Kelly and gallery director Helen Kedgley thanked the mayor and council for the "generous gift".

The New Zealand Portrait Gallery is located on the city's waterfront, near Customhouse Quay and Johnstone St.