Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses

Prime ministers Art exhibition banner

Visit Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) free exhibition, Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses, at 395 Wellington Street, in Ottawa. This is your chance to learn more about the artistic interests and impacts of Mackenzie King, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, and other Canadian prime ministers.

This exhibition features published and archival items from across LAC’s collection. Taken together, the material reveals the intriguing, informal, and often unexpected side of Canada’s prime ministers. While walking through the exhibition, you will discover four themes: Patrons, Muses, Collectors, and Creators.

An interesting aspect of the Patrons section focuses on Sir Wilfrid Laurier, showcasing letters from Laurier’s archives, which illustrate his support of arts figures such as Mohawk (Haudenosaunee) poet E. Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake.

The largest thematic section of the exhibition is Muses, which focuses on creative works inspired by the prime ministers. A notable example is the series of three massive funereal paintings commemorating the death of Sir John Sparrow David Thompson.

The idea of the prime ministers as Collectors is explored in a corner of the exhibition space dedicated among other things to Mackenzie King and his books. Visitors are invited to sit in an armchair and view an e-book, which guides them through King’s life as it is represented in his library.

Finally, amateur photography attributed to Pierre Elliott Trudeau is part of a section where visitors can learn more about the prime ministers as Creators.

If you live in or are visiting Canada’s capital region, drop by to explore our prime ministers’ legacies through the lens of their public and personal relationships with literature, music, the visual arts and much more.

You can view our impressive selection of originals and reproductions in the Morley Callaghan Room at 395 Wellington St. in Ottawa (to the right after entering the building). Also be sure to stop by the entrance’s sunken lobby to see a timeline featuring 150 years of prime ministers and take a selfie with one of the life size cut-outs. Share your pictures using the #PMArts hashtag and tag us!

Throughout the course of the exhibition, make sure to follow the blog series, which promises to be as interesting and unexpected as the exhibition itself.


Opening date:
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Opening hours:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Free admission
Library and Archives Canada,
Morley Callaghan Room
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Some of the works in the exhibition

painting of Queen Victoria’s Tribute to her Dead Canadian Premier

Queen Victoria’s Tribute to her Dead Canadian Premier,
by Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith, 1896.
Source: c141808k.

Sketch of Mackenzie King with his dog

Mackenzie King with his dog Pat,
by Arthur Lismer, ca. 1940s. Courtesy of the Estate of Arthur Lismer.
Source: e011201014

Hand written page of a letter from E. Pauline Johnson to Wilfrid Laurier

Page from E. Pauline Johnson letter to Wilfrid Laurier,
April 8, 1906.
Source: e011180873

Detail of page from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s copy of This Is My Story signed by Eleanor Roosevelt

Detail of page from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s copy of This Is My Story by Eleanor Roosevelt, showing the inscription to King from the author. The date of the inscription is noted in King’s hand.
(Library and Archives Canada, Collection of Books from the Library of William Lyon Mackenzie King, AMICUS 3511749)

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