The House of Commons Heritage Collection contains a wide range of objects, such as furniture, drawings, paintings and ceremonial objects. Many of these commemorate specific events or occasions in the country’s history. One example of this is the collection of 34 miniature portraits of the Fathers of Confederation by Montreal artist Juliette De Lavoye, created to celebrate Canada’s 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967.
Miniatures are a type of portrait painting that became popular in the 16th century and remained so until the mid-19th century. Mounted onto lockets, small boxes or other small items, these versatile paintings were very portable and cherished by their owners, but their popularity declined with the advent of photography.
Born in 1903, Juliette De Lavoye honed her craft over many years, and in 1953 became the first Canadian to be admitted to the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers in London, England. The idea of painting the Fathers of Confederation miniatures first came to her in 1960 when she visited the National Archives of Canada. There, she saw a number of likenesses of the Fathers of Confederation on paper that were in a state of deterioration. It would take seven years for her to complete the project commissioned by Samuel Bronfman, President of Distillers Corporation – Seagrams Limited.
The artist found it necessary to travel to Europe to obtain the necessary materials for the commissioned work. The ivory on which the portraits are painted and the velvet for the frames came from Paris, the watercolour paints were from England, and a bird feather used for the finer details came from Poland. The miniatures are individually mounted in their own shadow box frame made of mahogany with a protective glass front.
The miniatures were completed in 1967 and Samuel Bronfman presented them as a centennial gift to the nation. They were unveiled during a ceremony held at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, after which they went on a 16-city, cross-country tour as part of the federal Centennial Commission. The tour included stops in Saskatoon, Toronto, Halifax, Saint John and Quebec City. The miniatures’ final destination was Ottawa, where they were presented to the Government of Canada in a ceremony held in the Railway Committee Room of Centre Block.
The 34 miniature portraits provide a complete record of the likenesses of the Fathers of Confederation, created in a medium that speaks to the era of these individuals. For further information on this series or other works in the House of Commons Heritage Collection, please visit our website.
Courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library