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Sawyer, William
Portrait of John A. Macdonald
1863

William Sawyer was a successful portrait artist and photographer who lived in Kingston, Ontario, in the 19th century. Born in Montreal in 1820, he seems to have learned his craft by copying engravings and drawing from casts. His work included portrait painting, sign painting, photographic portraits and the colouring of photographs. He also gave lessons. Although resident in Kingston from 1855, during the 1860s Sawyer had studios in both Kingston and Montreal, commuting between the two and enjoying a successful career in painted and photographic portraiture. His sober, academic portraiture documents important figures in the social and political history of Canada.

Portrait of John A. Macdonald is a small, oval portrait head painted four years before Canadian confederation. Canada’s most famous Father of Confederation, Macdonald was Kingston’s long-serving member of parliament and a former city alderman. The portrait appears to have been a preparatory work, but not a sketch as such, for a full-length portrait of Macdonald, owned by the City of Kingston. It also relates to an extant calotype of Macdonald. Sawyer used photographs as source material for paintings, but never as under-drawings as some artists did. The oval portrait is a sensitively painted likeness of a young John A. Macdonald as his political star was rising.

 
Sawyer, William
Montreal QC 1820–Kingston ON 1889
Portrait of John A. Macdonald
1863
Oil on card
height / width: 29.2 cm x 24.2 cm
Gift of Margaret E. Ettinger, 2001
44-021

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