This drawing shows thirty-four men gathered in a large room, each depicted in great detail. The yellowed paper, lack of colour and roughly sketched back wall suggest that it is a preparatory drawing for a finished work.

Robert Harris

(Tyn-y-Groes, Wales, 1849 – Montréal 1919)

 

Cartoon for Meeting of the Delegates of British North America to Settle the Terms of Confederation, Quebec, October 1864

1883

Charcoal and red chalk on wove paper

160 x 362 cm

Transfer from the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada, 1981

National Gallery of Canada, 26955

Photo: National Gallery of Canada


This detailed, full-scale drawing, or cartoon, was made in preparation for the painting Meeting of the Delegates of British North America, completed in 1884 on commission for the Canadian government. The group portrait commemorates the 1864 Quebec Conference, where seventy-two resolutions were adopted as the basis for Canadian Confederation. Thirty-four men are pictured, including John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) and George-Étienne Cartier (1814-1873). The finished painting hung in the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings, where it was destroyed in the fire of 1916. A century later, Kent Monkman produced an idiosyncratic version of the work for Canada’s 150th anniversary.


The Welsh-born painter, illustrator and teacher Robert Harris grew up on Prince Edward Island. After studying painting in the United States and Europe, he settled in Montréal but made return trips to Europe to perfect his craft. His career as a portraitist took an important turn in 1883 when he was chosen to paint the Fathers of Confederation. He was elected president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1893 and held the position for thirteen years.

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