Friday, 9 March 2012

Should we repatriate the Queen's portrait ?

See part 1: A history of the Winnipeg Arena's Queen portraits. Also, check out an updated version I did in December 2014 for the Winnipeg Free Press and, most recently, news that the portrait is returning to Winnipeg !

Burch works on second portrait, 1979 -99 (source)

So, what to do with Burch's second portrait of Her Majesty? I think that we should reclaim it and use already allocated public arts funding and institutions to do so.

Art purists will no-doubt recoil at the thought of an almost unknown, local, commercial artist's work mingling with some of the peices described below. Consider, though, that the portrait hung for 20 years, and its predecessor for 25 years before that, in the Winnipeg Arena. In a Canadian city the arena is not just a sports venue. It's also a concert hall, public auditorium the scene of everything from royal visits to military tattoos to the circus. It's the cornerstone of a city's public life.
Winnipeg has a long history of collecting art related to it in some fashion and using public funds and institutions to do so. Some examples:

In 2000 private investors and the three levels of government funded a $200,000 bid for Winnie The Pooh and the Honey Pot (above) that hangs in Assiniboine Park's Pavilion Gallery.
An art reviewer at the time wrote: "The painting's colour is unsophisticated, the shapes are clumsy and uninventive and the paint is awkwardly applied: most first-year university painting students could do as well or better" but, due to its connection to the city's most famous namesake, was considered worth acquiring. (June 9, 2001, Winnipeg Free Press, Sigrid Dahle).

Airport Art
Two 100 x 40 foot murals graced Winnipeg's old airport terminal since its construction in 1963. Transport Canada shipped one back to Ottawa for display, leaving Structural Relief in Fifteen Parts (above) by artist Eli Bornstein facing the wrecking ball. In the end, the U of M rescued it, with the help of the city.

Timothy E
In 2002 the Eaton family and province stuck an agreement to have the ca. 1919 Timothy Eaton statue was named a provincial heritage object. During the construction of the MTS Centre the statue was moved to its current location on the second floor.

- In 1970
some of the murals from the Royal Alexandra Hotel were removed, restored and have been squirrelled in the Manitoba Archives.

- The Winnipeg Art Gallery's recent acquisitions include Diana Thorneycroft's
Early Snow with Bob and Doug, from the series Group of Seven Awkward Moments, (donated but must be maintained by the institution) and they have purchased and maintain an eclectic collection of Canadian contemporary art.

Official Portrait ca 2012 (source)

It's true that finding a worthy place for it would take some work.
It's a mistake to assume that it should be put up at the arena. After all, True North doesn't want it, the building wasn't constructed to hold it and besides, as they pointed out to PostMedia's Scott Stinson, the image is now is now 35 out of date.

As much as I wouldn't like to see go into storage, it may be a necessary first step upon its return.
Liz and Lee (source)
So who should take the lead on this ?

A person who has been silent on the matter and needs to step up to the plate is current
Lieutenant Governor Philip Lee. After all, he is the Queen's representative in Manitoba and it was two former L.G.s, "Bud" Jobin and Jack McKeag, that ponied up much of the cash for the portrait.

Lee should take it upon himself to use his connections and honourary patronships to help raise funds and find a place for the work.

Just as her Majesty's silver jubilee got Jobin's wheels turning to commission the portrait, wouldn't it be fitting that her diamond jubillee was cause to bring the portrait home.

“For 60 years, Her Majesty has set the standard for public service. By celebrating this historic and significant anniversary, we recognize our heritage and the institutions that define who we are as Manitobans and Canadians."
Philip Lee, 2012 (source)

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