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The Office of Lieutenant-Governor

A Study in Canadian Government and Politics
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The Canadian Kingdom

The Canadian Kingdom

150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy
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Excerpt

Royalty and the Arts in Canada
Carolyn Harris

On February 6, 2017, Queen Elizabeth II reached her blue sapphire jubilee, having reigned for sixty-five years in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other Commonwealth realms. While the name of the Queen’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, became synonymous with her era, the description of the current Queen’s reign as a “new Elizabethan age” did not endure for more than a few years after her accession in 1952 and coronation in 1953. Elizabeth II has reigned over a period of such profound social, political, and cultural change that the unifying themes that will determine her historical legacy remain a matter of debate. The Queen has been praised for her roles as Head of the Commonwealth, a politically impartial constitutional monarch, the leader of a “service monarchy” devoted to philanthropy, and matriarch of a multi-generational royal family that represents the future of the dynasty.

In a 2012 biography written on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, journalist Robert Hardman speculated that the Queen will have another lasting legacy: the “curator monarch.” Since the reign of King Henry VIII, the Queen and her predecessors have accumulated a vast collection of between seventy-five thousand and one million paintings, decorative objects, and sculptures. For centuries, these cultural treasures were accessible to a privileged few and managed by a small curatorial staff, but the Queen has ensured that the Royal Collection has become accessible to a wide international audience.

In addition to displaying items from the collection at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Holyroodhouse, the Queen has approved touring exhibitions that have showcased the Royal Collection to aninternational audience and loaned individual pieces to museums and galleries abroad. Richard Dorment, art critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in Britain, praised the Queen’s expansion of public access to the Royal Collection, writing at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, “It is the Queen who set up specialist conservation studios for the care and preservation of paintings, furniture, frames, armour, textiles, ceramics, works on paper, and bookbinding. She is also renowned for her generosity in lending works of art from the Royal Collection to other institutions here and abroad.” Dorment observed that most major international exhibitions include pieces from the Royal Collection, as the Queen’s policy is to agree to all requests from reputable cultural institutions for loans of art works that are in a suitable condition to travel.

The Queen’s role as curator monarch has exerted a profound impact on Canadian art and culture, building upon centuries of patronage of Canadian artists, architects, and cultural institutions by past generations of royalty, most notably members of the royal family who resided in Canada for years at a time. A number of Canada’s past royal residents, including Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise and granddaughter Princess Patricia, were accomplished artists in their own right who raised the profile of Canadian galleries by founding new cultural institutions, attending events, submitting their pieces for judgment in Canadian exhibitions, and donating their work. Over the course of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has loaned or donated art to Canadian cultural institutions and acquired works by Canadian artists for the Royal Collection, expanding the scope of royal involvement in the arts in Canada and setting precedents for future generations in the royal family.

The patronage of art and culture was part of the identity of English and French monarchs from the time of their first engagement with the lands and peoples of North America. Medieval monarchs were valued for their ability to lead troops into battle and administer justice, but a sixteenth century king or queen was also expected to preside over a cultured court frequented by artists and writers who helped shape the monarch’s image. In England, King Henry VIII and members of his family were painted by Hans Holbein, while Henry’s contemporary, King François I of France, provided Leonardo da Vinci with a residence in the Loire Valley, Clos Lucé, a short distance from the royal palace at Amboise. The artistic output of the English and French royal courts was intended for an international audience. Diplomacy between monarchs included exchanges of portraits, and artists travelled widely to seek royal patronage.

European engagement with First Nations leaders prompted early examples of royal art patronage in a Canadian context. In 1710, Queen Anne invited “the four Kings of Canada” — three Mohawk chiefs from the Iroquois Confederacy, including Peter Brant (grandfather of Joseph Brant), and a Mahican leader of the Algonquin peoples — to Britain as part of diplomatic mission to negotiate a continued alliance against France. Anne commissioned four majestic portraits of her visitors by the Dutch artist Jan Verelst, which were displayed at Kensington Palace in London until the current Queen’s reign. In 1977, when Elizabeth II toured Canada on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee, she presented the paintings to the National Archives of Canada. In 2010, the images appeared on a Canadian postage stamp to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary of the meeting between Queen Anne and the four kings. In 2017, the paintings went on display in the new Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

Early visits by members of the royal family to what is now Canada focused on military matters rather than cultural patronage. The only recorded interaction between the future King William IV and an artist on the voyage of the HMS Pegasus, which visited Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in 1787 as part of a larger voyage, was an altercation with a German landscape painter in the Caribbean who offended the prince.

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