Quebec artist returns to government lobby, replacing Queen's portrait

Two paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan are back on display in the Lester B. Pearson building

Alfred Pellan

Alfred Pellan

OTTAWA – Visitors to Canada’s foreign affairs headquarters in Ottawa will no longer see a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth when they enter the building.

Instead, two paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan are back on display in the Lester B. Pearson building, four years after the Conservatives removed them to make room for the Queen.

The works, which had hung above the front desk since Queen Elizabeth officially opened the building in 1973, had been taken down in 2011 at the request of former foreign affairs minister John Baird, just prior to the visit of Prince William and his wife, Kate.

The removal of the colourful Pellan paintings ruffled the feathers of some who work at the building, which has long housed the federal foreign affairs department — newly re-christened by the Liberals as Global Affairs Canada.

But the paintings were brought back Sunday as part of a push by the Trudeau government to showcase Canadiana, Global Affairs spokesman John Babcock said Monday in an email.

“The re-installation of the pair of historic paintings by Quebec modern master artist Alfred Pellan … represents our continued interest in representing the best of Canada at every opportunity,” Babcock wrote.

“Global Affairs Canada is committed to showcasing Canada, our art and our culture in all of our facilities, whether at home here in Canada or abroad in our embassies, high commissions and consulates.”

Baird had also instructed embassies and missions abroad to display portraits of the Queen in 2011. Those portraits are expected to remain in place, said Babcock.

“We have not provided any recent direction to missions regarding the picture portraits of Her Majesty the Queen at missions.”

The Pellan paintings were originally commissioned for the first Canadian mission in Brazil, which opened in 1944.

The removal of the masterpieces in 2011 was panned at the time by everyone from art aficionados to anti-monarchists to Quebec politicians.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said it was “entirely appropriate that we take every opportunity to showcase the best of Canadian culture in all of our government installations.”

The removal of the Queen’s portrait should not be interpreted as a lack of respect for the monarchy, Dion added.

The Conservative government said in 2011 that the Queen’s portrait was to pay tribute to Canada’s head of state as she was preparing to celebrate her 50th year on the throne.

“The (Pellan) paintings were present in this prominent location when Queen Elizabeth opened the building in 1973 and I am certain that she would not be disappointed in any way to see them returned as a fitting symbol of Canadian history and culture,” Dion said.

Pellan, who died in 1988, is considered a pivotal figure in bringing modern art to Canada.

A federal electoral riding is named after him in Laval, north of Montreal.

Global Affairs employees were among the first civil servants visited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he was sworn in last week, and they gave him a rock-star welcome that a number of critics decried as partisanship.

There was pandemonium Friday as Trudeau arrived at the Pearson building, where he was cheered and applauded as he waded into the crowd of hundreds, shaking hands and posing for selfies.

— With files from Terry Pedwell

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