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The four Indian kings first travelled to London in 1710 to meet Queen Anne as delegates of the Iroquoian Confederacy in an effort to cement an alliance with the British. Queen Anne was so impressed by her visitors that she commissioned their portraits by court painter John Verelst. The portraits are believed to be some of the earliest surviving oil portraits of Aboriginal peoples taken from life.

On October 16, 1977, a few months following the spectacular acquisition of these rare examples of Canadian history, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the exhibition of the portraits at the National Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada). The portraits were presented to the Canadian public alongside historical prints inspired by the works and other images of the four travellers, as well as the communion silver and Bible presented to the delegates by Queen Anne. In an interesting reversal of roles, the contemporary chiefs of the Mohawk people of the Bay of Quinte and those of the Six Nations Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario, were present to greet Her Majesty in honour of her Silver Jubilee visit to Ottawa and the public presentation of the portraits to Canadians.

Some three hundred years after their original voyage and three decades after being acquired, the portraits have returned to London. Library and Archives Canada is pleased to lend these works to the National Portrait Gallery, where they will be showcased as part of the exhibition Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700—1850, on view from March 8 to June 17, 2007.

You may also wish to visit the Virtual Vault website featuring works from the Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.


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