The hall, specially built in the Legislature of Saskatchewan, to house the fabulous Indian portraits painted by Edmund Morris in 1911.

Morris Page 29

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Edmund Montague Morris (1871-1913)

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
J'accuse! Pride, Pain, & Pastel Power - One of Canada's most famous Indian chiefs, celebrated in one of Canada's finest Indian portraits, done by a leading Canadian painter renowned for his powerful portraits of important Indian leaders a century ago.

What other Canadian portrait better expresses, the pride of a noble leader, the pain of a people betrayed - as well as reflect a tragic episode in Canadian history - than does this pastel tour de force by one of Canada' s finest artists?

A Face for the Ages: Letting more than a little of his slip show, Edmund Morris breaks every studio posing convention with this stunning portrait. Echoing a police mug shot - a sly allusion to the contemporary white view of this imprisoned native leader - Morris fires back with one of the most powerful faces in Canadian art history - clearly intending it to be a portrait for the ages. He brashly faces Poundmaker, fully frontal, in a clearly accusatory confrontation of an aboriginal leader with his white audience.

And obviously Edmund is standing right behind him. No smiling tourist pose here; no Hollywood Indian savage; no studio posed museum redskin. No fussy feathers, or fancy headdress; no pretty bead work. No cradled tomahawk - a veiled threat of force - or a ceremonial peace pipe - acknowledging a just and happily concluded negotiation. Stripped of the props and poses, beloved by studio portrait painters of Indians, Edmund gives us only a man in a cheap shirt - but what a face! It exudes the power of immense self-assurance, of personal pride, of moral purpose, but also of trust betrayed in those pained eyes.We are given a superlative portrait of a human being in great pain. Only later do you realize Morris has also painted an Indian - a masterwork of a tortured face which reflects a great tragedy in Canadian aboriginal history.

This stunning and extraordinarily rare portrait is one of only four originals known to exist: one hangs in the Legislature of Saskatchewan, another in the Legislature of Alberta, and another - donated by Edmund Morris himself - is in the vaults of the London, Ontario city archives.

Petocahhanawawin - Poundmaker, Edmund Morris 1910
Orig. pastel - Size - 15" x 21"
Found - Toronto, ON
Pastel on paper, and signed by Edmund Morris
Painters of Aboriginal Peoples - From the time the first white people arrived, Canada's First Peoples have attracted the artistic attention of painters who were entranced by what a rich treasure trove of costumes, and artefacts, colour, and facial expressions Canada's aboriginal peoples put at their disposal.

In fact, among the first images - Champlain in the east and Captain Cook in the west - took back to Europe, were pictures of Canada's native people.

Some artists who would win renown for the excellence of their Canadian aboriginal portraits were: William Berczy (1744-1813), Paul Kane (1810-1871), Father Henry Metzger (1877-1949), James Henderson (1871-1951), Edmund Morris (1871-1913), and latterly Nicholas de Grandmaison (1892-1978) and Jeanette McClelland Brookes (active 1980s on).

Edmund Morris: Edmund was born in Perth, Ontario, in 1871. He was the son of Alexander Morris, a lawyer and former Minister in the Government of John A Macdonald, who then made him Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the North West Territories from 1872-1877.

During that period the senior Morris played the major role in concluding the land claims treaties that brought the former Indian lands across the western prairies under Canadian government control. That was crucial because John A had promised British Columbians on the Pacific Coast that he would connect them with a transcontinental railway in ten years, their price for joining Confederation.

In the 1880s Edmund went on to study art under painting masters in Toronto, New York and Paris, France. He came back to Canada and in 1907, was an important founding member of the Canadian Art Club whose members sought to foster the development of Canadian art at the dawn of the 20th century.

In 1906 Edmund was commissioned, by the Ontario Government to join Duncan Campbell Scott and the James Bay #9 Treaty party, to paint portraits of the main Ojibway leaders involved in the land claims negotiations. The Indian Department believed that the Indians were a "waning" culture and race, whose leaders should be painted before it was too late.

In 1907 Edmund received a second Ontario Government commission to paint other treaty negotiating leaders.

In 1905 the old North West Territories of the Canadian west had been reconfigured into the two large provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Construction of two huge legislative buildings was begun in Winnipeg, MB and Regina, SK.

In 1910 the first premier of the Province of Saskatchewan, Walter Scott, commissioned Edmund to make a series of 15 pastel portraits of Indian leaders to be hung in the new legislative building, even before the construction was finished. (below)

The Alberta Government followed suit, commissioning him to paint five more for their legislature.

Today these pastel portraits still hang in honoured places in the legislatures of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

With these commissions Morris confirmed his reputation as Canada's official Indian portrait painter.

Morris also painted urban scenes and landscapes.

Sadly, not long after he painted the portraits, in 1913, Morris died at 42, possibly a suicide.

Insight Canada

No "big city dude from down east" painted Canada's most celebrated Indian portraits.

Edmund Morris, came by his passion for Indians by direct experience, over many years, from virtually the moment he drew breath, when he was surrounded by talk of Indians.

His father Alexander Morris was Lt. Governor of Canada's "Wild West" during the most fateful years in its history, the period during which he concluded treaties which stripped the Indians of much of northern Ontario and western Canada, giving up, thereby, their rights to their ancestral homelands, where they had ruled supreme for thousands of years.

In 1880 the senior Morris published his recollections of the process, the arguments, the bargaining, and the personalities involved with his "The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories."

The verbatim accounts of the exchanges which Alexander Morris published, makes it clear the Indian leaders, spread out across the Canadian wilderness, hampered by poor communications - even locally - were incapable of a unified and concerted defence of their rights, and were merely helpless pawns in the hands of the Governor and the formidable forces at his disposal.

By and large, their signatures were easy to extract. The Indians were starving; a promise of a cow here, some seed there, put off a desperate reckoning with their Maker for another day. Chronically underfed and poorly sheltered, they were in no condition to discuss from any position of strength their ancestral rights to their lands with well-fed, government bureaucrats, on expense accounts, and backed up by the financial and military might of the Canadian Government.

But reading his book makes it clear that Alexander Morris had high hopes for the cultural survival and prosperous future of Canada's western tribes. He recounts with obvious deep respect for the way, as Governor, he was received and "given the place of honour" among the people with whom he had come to make treaty.

His son, Edmund, only a child at the time, grew up in this atmosphere of great respect for an aboriginal people and a way of life that was fast passing from the scene. He would have absorbed the feeling from his surroundings through his eyes, ears, indeed, through his very skin.

More Great Canadian Treasures by Edmund Morris, at the Saskatchewan Legislature
Khatokopechamakasis, Edmund Morris Opazatonka, Edmund Morris Acoose, Edmund Morris
Big Bear, Edmund Morris Piapot, Edmund Morris The Walker, Edmund Morris

Above, some of the fifteen portraits painted by Edmund for the Saskatchewan Legislature in 1910.

Big Bear (left) was a central figure in the Rebellions of 1885, when members of his band joined the Métis in armed protest against Government policy of the day.

Being a wise old chief, he cautioned his tribe from hasty action - counseling discussion instead of violence - but was brushed aside by impetuous war chiefs and angry young men of the tribe. Though he sought, all along, to prevent violence against the whites, the government held him - as the Head Chief - responsible and determined to punish him.

Big Bear was found guilty of treason and imprisoned in Stoney Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba. He died, virtually alone, in 1888, shortly after being released from prison.

Piapot (above right) became famous to generations of Canadian public school students for his symbolic barring of the railway from crossing his tribal lands.

But he realized that though right was on the side of his people, might was on the side of the advancing white civilization, and he refused to take up arms to prevent the tide of history that he saw was against them. So he escaped the fate of others whose tribes were trapped by events into fateful courses of action.

Poundmaker (1842-1886), who for years had fought an eloquent war of words as a champion of the rights of his people, was also imprisoned for his role - real or imagined - in the Rebellion of 1885.

He too died shortly after his release.

But Edmund Morris has ensured that his face below, and the cause for which he died - justice for the Aboriginal people of western Canada - will never be forgotten.

Go to The North West Rebellion
More Great Canadian Treasures by Edmund Morris
As artists have done since time immemorial, Edmund often executed duplicate originals of successful subjects that were in demand by clients. Left, the pastel in the Legislature of Saskatchewan. Right a newly found work made by Morris, at the same time, for another client. It is interesting to note the variations that Edmund introduced in his "copies." And, judging by these two portraits, one could even argue that the "copy" (right) was superior to that supplied the original contractor (left).
Edmund's original portrait of Nepahpenais for the Saskatchewan Legislature is left. For another commission he changed the clothing and pose but kept the intense sadness and powerful personality of his subject undiminished. Both are "one-ofs" originals.
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