Canada post will celebrate the 300th anniversary of four portraits that function as a record of early cultural and political diplomacy between the First Nations and the British Empire, and a negotiation that affected the course of power relations in North America.
In the days before photography, the power of the painted portrait was supreme. It spoke to the connections between people and historical events, and to have one’s likeness preserved was a privilege most often reserved for the wealthy and powerful. Today, those portraits provide invaluable records of days long past—of the people and occasions deemed important to a culture.
In 1710, a delegation of “four Kings”—three from the Five Nations Confederacy of the Iroquois and one from the Algonquin nation—travelled to London accompanied by colonial leaders, and had an audience with Queen Anne. The aboriginal representatives were being courted for their alliance in England’s war against France. Their visit created a sensation among Londoners, who wrote poems, ballads and songs about them. To commemorate their stay, the Queen commissioned court painter John Verelst to paint a portrait of each of her visitors. The paintings of the Four Indian Kings were held in the Royal Collection for more than a century before being acquired by the Government of Canada as national treasures in 1977.
“The Four Indian Kings are among the most significant documents held by Library and Archives Canada,” notes Dr. Daniel J. Caron, Librarian and Archivist of Canada. “The earliest surviving full-length depictions of North American Aboriginals painted from life, the portraits present a vivid record of the authoritative Aboriginal presence at the meeting with the British Queen in London on April 19, 1710.”