Christan Nicholson » "Canada's most famous living portrait painter", Eclectic Art 2010

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"Canada's most famous living portrait painter", Eclectic Art 2010

Prime Minister - The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien

In December, 2008, I was approached by a Montreal gallery to submit a portfolio for a possible portrait of Jean Chrétien. On January the 5th, 2009, Mr. Chrétien and I had a pleasant conversation. By June 2009, the contract was signed and I was the artist chosen to paint his official portrait. On July the 19th, I took a 7 hour bus ride up to the heart of Quebec, Shawinigan: a beautiful part of the country with clean air and rolling hills, located on the St. Maurice River. After a good night's sleep and a bit of sunstroke, I met Mr. Chrétien at 1:30 p.m. in the lobby of the hotel. He was on his Blackberry talking to the media about receiving the Order of Merit from the Queen (only the 4th Canadian to receive such an honour). Once free, he introduced me to his Mountie and off we went to Shawinigan Falls, a favourite location of his when he was younger. When he was first announce as Prime Minister, he had his photo taken in front of those falls. It's also where he and Aline went to get away when they were teenagers. As a result, I painted one portrait of Mr. Chrétien with the falls behind him. We took photographs in his office and I had him sit on the edge of the desk (a reference to my portrait of Lloyd Barbara). I took a photograph of him sitting in his office chair which became the portrait reminiscent of Pearson's portrait hanging in the House of Commons. He took me on a tour of Shawinigan, showed me the row house that he grew up in, the 18th of 19 children. His father, a mill worker, was a staunch Liberal supporter and wanted one politician in the family and so Jean was given that role. After the tour of the town we went to Mr. and Mrs. Chrétien's bungalow for a drink on the patio and the opportunity to have a seadoo ride across the lake, which I did not take him up on because I don't swim. From there, we went downtown to find a restaurant, but it was Monday and the restaurants for the most part were closed. So, we ended up at a Micro Brewery, where the bartender made us ham sandwiches, we reviewed the beer menu, I had three. We ended up on the patio, where Mr. Chrétien was very popular with the locals. He's dearly loved and has time for everyone. He remembers everyone's name and little bits about their family history. In all, it was an extraordinary day. Aline called at 9 to ask when he'd be home, and that was the end our day. The next day, I took a tour of a local church with murals by Ozias Leduc. It was a perfect visit, and the first three portraits came as a result.

However, it was decided in early December that a more formal portrait was in keeping with the Prime Ministerial portrait. He came to the apartment to be photographed seated on a bench, and standing holding his reading glasses (reminiscent of my two Robertson Davies portraits). After Christmas, I came back from Saint John and started a small painting of him standing and turned slightly. My assistant at the time said he looked statesman like and that could be the official portrait. So, I stopped working on the smaller version and started a larger version and another of a similar pose. Mr. Chrétien's daughter had talked about the colour Chinese yellow. We found a comparable North American colour, and that's what became the background for the official portrait. Mr. Chrétien's wife Aline, upon seeing the two standing portraits smiled from cheek to cheek, I hugged her. The three of us chatted, and at one point she turned to Mr. C, and said, "Jean, your father would be so proud of you in that portrait." At that point, they had been married for 52 years, still very much in love, she's happy, he's happy. He's happy, she's happy. And so, the decision was made. The portrait was unveiled on Parliament Hill on May the 25th, 2010 to great fanfare. And I had the time of my life. The portrait pops off the wall and has received glowing reviews. He looks tall, healthy, strong and athletic.

"The position is casual and contemplative, while the glasses refer to intelligence or academia. The way he  is turned towards the viewer and standing instead of sitting implies action. ...There's a luminosity to using that kind of ground which gives whatever is on top of it a bit more pop, this certainly speaks volumes about how he'd like to be portrayed. ...I think he'd like to be seen as maybe slightly idiosyncratic because the colour is so specific and so unusual, and I think also to be seen as a figure that was agile and on his feet. ...Chrétien's easily the most striking portrait in the Prime Minister's portrait gallery."

The National Post , May 2010

 

  • The Right Honourable
    Jean Chrétien, House of Commons Ottawa
  • The Right Honourable
    Jean Chrétien, priv. coll.
  • The Right Honourable
    Jean Chrétien, Study, Gov. coll.
  • The Right Honourable
    Jean Chrétien, priv. coll.
  • The artist with two Chrétien portraits
  • The Right Honourable
    Jean Chrétien, Artist's coll.