A bearded man at the centre of the composition is grappling with a serpent coiled around his arms and legs. The two smaller figures flanking him are also in the reptile’s grip. The drawing is composed of lines and cross-hatching.

John Wilson Bengough

(Toronto 1851 – Toronto 1923)


 “Canada’s Laocoön;”, or Virgil on the Political Situation


Ink on paper

31.5 x 25.3 cm

Published in Grip July 19, 1873

Gift of Dr. Raymond Boyer

McCord Museum, M994X.5.273.69

This political cartoon illustrates the Pacific Scandal, which, in 1873, brought down the government of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (1815-1891), accused of corruption in awarding the contract to build a transcontinental railroad. John W. Bengough depicts the event in a parody of the famous ancient statue Laocoön and His Sons, held in the Vatican Museums. Sir Hugh Allan (1810-1882), head of the railway syndicate involved and a fundraiser for Macdonald’s party, personifies the priest Laocoön. The serpent about to strangle Allan, Macdonald and his Finance Minister, Francis Hincks (1807-1885), looks more like a giant worm, which adds to the absurdity of the situation. 

John W. Bengough was a cartoonist, writer, editor and publisher. His satirical magazine Grip, an anti-Catholic weekly, was distributed in Toronto from 1873 to 1895. Bengough’s drawings, and those of Canadian cartoonists in general, are increasingly recognized for their formal qualities and their appropriation of famous works of art. The schematized forms, the predominance of line and the balance between distortion and resemblance unquestionably helped inspire visual artists to adopt more modern styles.


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