Painter's portraits mirror real life


For portraitist Cyril Leeper, that old adage 'the eyes are windows to the soul' could not be truer and capturing the personality of subjects through their eyes is what gives his paintings life.

In the case of his most recent portrait the Honourable James Bartleman's face portrays a relaxed comfort that was achieved through genuine friendship -- a bond created between subject and painter which Leeper agrees can be difficult to achieve in his line of work.

Leeper painted Ontario's 27th Lieutenant Governor in the familiar surrounds of his own home.

"For me to have painted in the home of the Honourable James Bartleman was a privilege and an honour, making the work much easier for me," said Leeper, one of only four renowned portraitists in Canada, who can spend weeks at a time away from his family.

"He said to me, 'Mi casa' which is Spanish for 'my house is your house'. I was very taken by the fact that he would take an artist into his home when normally I have a hotel or studio. The painting took weeks to complete and James made me feel so welcome. It was very unusual and the first time ever for me to paint in the home of a commission, but because of that we have become good friends."

Through his portrait, Bartleman has now joined the ranks of all those who served before him on the walls of Queen's Park and the Tiny Township portraitist has created an impressive likeness of him that will live on for centuries.

When it was unveiled during a special ceremony in Toronto on June 15, the image drew approving murmurs of awe from the government officials and special guests. So at ease and life-like, the retired Lieutenant Governor looks as if he could stand up and walk away.

Although Bartleman's portrait marks the 14th commission he has done of Canada's former Lieutenant Governors, Leeper admits the honour was no less impressive. With each one he is amazed to find himself standing before some of the country's top leaders with a paintbrush and palette in his hand. Bringing people to life on canvass is what Leeper does best to the point where he has been recognized time and time again for his work at the highest order. It is honour he does not take lightly.

Assisting Bartleman with the unveiling was former Lt.-Gov. Lincoln Alexander, whom was painted by Leeper a few years earlier.

"The whole event was really something. I was called to the podium for an introduction where they announced some of my background as a painter. I was deeply honoured," said Leeper

"Lincoln Alexander came close to the painting to get a better look at it. he was very complimentary of my work. He is very high profile Canadian and I enjoyed painting him very much. I am not sure exactly why he attended the unveiling -- if it was to view the portrait or perhaps because he and James Bartleman are kindred spirits both having come from humble beginnings and done so much good. I was very pleased to see him at the event."

While there are similarities in the style of government portraits Leeper paints relating to official dress and background, the Bartleman portrait will stand alone for its uniqueness. In recognition of his native culture and tradition, Bartleman wears the buckskin fringed jacket of a chief -- the coat was a gift from the Sandy Lake community north of Thunder Bay.

Sitting beside Bartleman in the portrait is his dog 'Ado' marking the first portrait of a Lieutenant Governor with his purebred Belgium Shepard at his side.

Following the unveiling, Bartleman told reporters Ado would keep him company if he ends up "haunting" the halls of the legislature.

"If I have to wander the halls of Queen's Park forever, I want to have one of my dogs with me," said Bartleman as quoted in the Toronto Star by Louise Brown.

As the first Ontario Aboriginal to represent the Queen, Bartleman implemented the four-part Lieutenant Governor's Aboriginal Literacy Program, which helped establish libraries in Ontario's 28 fly-in Aboriginal communities by collecting more than two million books, launched book clubs and summer reading camps. Grand Chief Stan Beardy of Nishnawbe-Aski First Nation spoke at the June 15 unveiling of Bartleman's portrait, and a classroom of high school students from the fly-in Deer Lake reserve were invited to attend.

Bartleman served as the Queen's representative in Ontario from 2002 to 2007 and traditionally, a portrait of each Lieutenant Governor is commissioned at the end of their term.

In addition to 14 Lieutenant Governors, Leeper has painted many high profile names.

He is currently working on a portrait of the Honourable Beverly McLaughlin, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who commissioned the distinguished portraitist after attended the portrait unveiling of the Honourable Justice Gerald J. Rip as chief justice to the tax court of Canada earlier this year in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court of Canada Building in Ottawa.

Over the years, Leeper has painted a long list of notables and nobles, including the likes of Fred Bridge, former chairman of Canadian Pacific, Jack Mastermas, chairman and CEO of Mutual Life Canada, and former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed.

Leeper has also painted several members of the British Royal family, including Prince Andrew whose mother, Queen Elizabeth, has had him commissioned to paint her portrait at some point in the future.

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