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Saturday, 5 January 2013

A portrait of artist Victor Long


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the death of artist Victor Arthur Long.

I first came across his name while researching the Carnegie portrait that hangs in the Millennium Library. He was one of Winnipeg's most prolific painters and said to be the first artists in town to earn a living solely from his work. In a career that spanned 50 years he left a body of work that included portraits of many of the West's first public officials.

November 24, 1888, Winnipeg Free Press

Victor Arthur Long was born in 1866 in Fort Erie Ontario. Long’s interest in art took him briefly to New York and then a four-year stint in Europe, (Dublin, Munich and Paris.) A Vancouver newspaper later said that “He was there at the Beaux Arts and the Julien Schools under Cabanel, Jerome, and Tony Robert Fleury.” (source)

In 1887 Long returned to Canada and opened a studio on Main Street in Winnipeg. He specialized in oil portraits and would paint for anyone, regardless of status, and soon found that he was able to live on his income as an artist, one of the first in Winnipeg to do so.

At the 1894 industrial fair he took first and second prizes for his portraits of the late Archbishop Tache of St. Boniface and of Mrs. T.  C. Livingston. In 1897 he was commissioned by the city to paint the portrait of the Queen Victoria that hung in the main lobby of the new city hall: “The portrait as the city's contract called for, shows Her Majesty in the 55th year of her age, and not as she is at present” noted the Free Press of  July 29, 1897.

He also approached the city and province offering to paint large portraits of past mayors and speakers at a deeply discounted price in exchange for them being prominently displayed.

Carnegie Portrait
Andrew Carnegie at the Millennium Library

Long relied on a steady stream of publicity and the prominent placement of his work to keep his studio busy. Often he would paint a famous portrait and have it displayed in the window of a local shop. The newspapers would carry a line or two that "The Prime Minister is hanging in the window of so-and so’s hardware store..." to generate attention.

He sometimes ruffled feathers with an 'ambush' technique that he used to get his paintings sold.

In 1901, prior to a Royal visit, Long unveiled before city council an uncommissioned portrait of the King for presentation - providing that they pay him $300. Some councillors were not pleased but he got his money and even unveiled the work before the King himself that September.

A similar tactic was used in 1905 prior to the opening of the new Carnegie Library on William Avenue. He showed up at a council meeting with a larger-than-life portrait of Andrew Carnegie. Council was asked to pay $550 for the work that was meant to hang prominently in the library. It caused a heated debate but in the end council was shamed into buying the portrait.

February 28, 1919. Winnipeg Free Press

In 1902 Long married Scottish-born Alexandria Victoria Hughes and they had two children, John and Winifred. In 1910 the family moved to the Vancouver area where he set up a studio and continued painting private commissions and public figures. 

Each summer, Long took a train across the prairie. He advertised his stops in advance, set up in a local hotel and took new commissions that he brought back to Vancouver and later shipped the completed works to clients.


In November 1933, Long hosted a one-man exhibition in Vancouver that featured 40 of his works, including a number of his Winnipeg portraits.

Long died on December 18, 1938 in his Vancouver apartment. A Free Press editorial of December 22, (also carried by the Vancouver Sun on January 7, 1939), said:

"...a professional artist and proud of it. Artist Long was a true Winnipeg old-timer, one of the most likeable of men and that also probably went far in getting him portrait commissions....  Artists of that day, who were more ostentatiously aesthetic and less frankly professional, often rumbled in their throats because Vic Long inevitably landed all the important commissions in the portrait line."

Fort Douglas
Fort Douglas, one of two Long landscapes,
Local History Room of Winnipeg's Millennium Library

Long's Works

Long's work can be seen in public buildings across the prairies. Some examples:

In Winnipeg the official portraits of a number of the first mayors of Winnipeg in the city council chambers. Fort Douglas and Fort Garry in the Local History Room at the Millennium Library.

At the Legislature George V and Queen Mary in the Speaker's Reception and most pre-1938 premiers.

The Orange Lodge still sell prints of Long's Thomas Scott which was painted for the Scott memorial Hall on Princess Street. The Winnipeg Art Gallery's collection includes Mrs. Elizabeth Norquay.

In other provinces, he painted most early Alberta Lieutenants Governor, Premiers of B.C., chancellors of UBC and Prime Minister Charles Tupper's official portrait in the House of Commons. 

Also see Portrait of Lady, Portrait of a distinguished Man.

Other Long portraits found in newspaper mentions but location unknown:


Queen Victoria, age 50, Winnipeg city hall (1897). Mrs. T.  C. Livingston, Winnipeg (1890s). Reverend John Black, presented to John Black Memorial Church by his widow (1935). Archbishop Tache (1894). The territorial court for the Law Society of Saskatchewan, hung in the Regina Court House (1909): Chief Justice Wetmore: Justices McGuire, Sifton, Scott, McLeod, Rouleau and Richardson. James Wickes Taylor, U.S. Consul to Winnipeg in 1870 - 1880s that hung in Winnipeg city hall (1890s). Reverend Dr. Sparling for exhibition (1903). John McDougall, retiring sargent-at-arms, for Manitoba Legislature (1926). Major H. M. Arnold, commissioned by the Operatic Society, to hang in Winnipeg city hall (1901). Richard Waugh, presented to Agricultural College. Mrs. Crowson, home of J. H. Ashdown (pre-1928). A "Venice", home of J. H. Ashdown, (pre-1928). "The Little Heiress" for public sale (1906). Mrs. John Tweedy for exhibition (1897). Retiring Portage la Prairie Mayor Edward Brown, presented by the people of Portage la Prairie (1910). Mayor Murdoch, Calgary city hall (1909). Colonel George H. Ham of C.P.R. (1926). Mary Raynsford, also known as Marie and May Raynsford, Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria B.C.. T.J. Skinner of Calgary (pre-1921). Mr. Pat Burns of Calgary (pre-1921). Angus McKay, head of Experimental farm at Indian Head SK (1912). Mayor Williams, Regina (1909). Chief Crowfoot (unknown).

At a 1921 exhibition at the HBC store in Calgary he exhibited: Mr. Clove of Calgary. The Duchess of Devonshire. The Thinker. Father Lacombe.

As mentioned above, his largest exhibit was in Vancouver in 1933. It brought together 40 of his painting, including George V and Queen Mary, Father Lacombe and a number of portraits of famous Vancouver men.

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