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Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Collection - Recent Acquisitions

Sir John and Lady Berry

These paintings, the earliest painted portraits in the collection of Library and Archives Canada, depict one of the founding fathers of Newfoundland and his wife.

In 1675, the British government appointed "the gallant and good man" John Berry as captain of the annual Newfoundland fishing convoy. His assignment: move the settlers from the island, which British authorities viewed not as a settlement, but as a seasonal operation. Berry visited every English outport to deliver the government's message. In the process, he produced the first surviving census of Newfoundland, still known as "Berry's list." The document is currently held by the Public Records Office in London.

In his final report, Berry defended the rights of the settlers to remain. Swayed by this and additional recommendations, the British government rescinded the evacuation order, and the seasonal workers became good Newfoundlanders. Look in a present-day Newfoundland phone book: some of the original names on "Berry's list" still live on in their descendants.

Both paintings follow the conventions of 17th century portraiture: men were powerful, and women beautiful. Lady Berry's virtues, according to her epitaph, were humility and constancy, character traits somewhat offset in this portrait by her fashionable and revealing "undress."

The artist, Michael Dahl, was originally from Sweden, but settled in London and became an accomplished portrait painter patronized by Princess (later Queen) Anne and various members of the nobility. His portraits are in numerous European and North American public collections: the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia; and the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.