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The Murals in the Former Reading Room

David Monaghan, Curator, Curatorial Services

The Printed Word

Towards the end of the 1800s, the use of mural painting in architectural decoration experienced a revival in Western Europe and North America. This was particularly true in public buildings, such as churches, libraries and schools, where the paintings were not only intended to decorate, but also inspire and instruct the viewers.

John Andrew Pearson, the principal architect of the new Centre Block, wanted to provide the new Commons' Reading Room with a particularly elegant interior. In addition to the ornate fireplace, wood paneling, and decorative ceiling, he hired noted Hamilton-born mural artist Arthur Crisp to paint a mural series. The entire project, featuring seventeen panels, was commissioned in March 1920 and installed by March 1922.

At the time, the series was recognized by the press as an excellent example of mural art and a great compliment to the overall d'cor of the room. Unlike traditional mural painting, where the paint is applied directly to a plaster surface, these murals are an example of marouflage, a technique whereby the painting is produced on canvas which is then glued directly to the surface of the wall.

In keeping with the general theme of the Reading Room, room 237-C of Centre Block, the murals on the south and north walls celebrate printing and the power of the printed word. The murals in each corner depict the economic life of Canada's different geographic regions. The remaining panels along the east and west walls list the names of provinces and are illustrated with fanciful trees and birds. The work as a whole is an excellent example of mural painting in Canada following the First World War.

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