(Above, cropped, Thomas Coffin Doane, The Molson family brewery after the fire, Montreal, Quebec 1858, daguerreotype, Library and Archives Canada, e011154380_s2. Shown in full below)
Ah! If only we had a Portrait Gallery, as envisaged by Jean Chretien’s Liberals more than a decade ago. Maybe with the return of the Liberals, that idea will be reborn.
This all came to mind upon visiting a small exhibition by Library and Archives Canada, the parent of the stillborn Portrait Gallery, inside the National Gallery of Canada.
There, one finds the exhibition Mirrors with Memory: Daguerreotypes from Library and Archives Canada. Daguerreotypes were invented in 1839 with images being captured on silver-plated sheets of copper. These were among the world’s first photographs and by the 1850s, there was “Daguerreotypomania.” Everybody wanted a seemingly immortal image of a sweetheart or child.
Library and Archives has about 250 daguerreotypes in its collection. A few dozen have been selected for the National Gallery exhibition. We see portraits of the famous, like politician Louis-Joseph Papineau, circa 1852, a group portrait of three young women circa 1850-60 from Saint-Ours, Quebec in their Sunday best, and one of the earliest photographs (circa 1846) of an Aboriginal person from Canada — Maungwudaus, an Anishinaabe man also known as George Henry and the star of a globe-trotting Wild West show.
These portraits provide a fascinating doorway into our past. It’s a pity there is no Portrait Gallery for these images to be installed permanently. The National Gallery show ends Feb. 28, 2016.