A Portrait by Myfanwy


40 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 1-55039-025-2
DDC 759.11





Translated by Rachel Levy
Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


Myfanwy Spencer Pavelic was chosen by Pierre Trudeau to paint his
official portrait for the House of Commons gallery of prime ministers.
In January 1991, for two days, he visited her studio in Sidney,
Vancouver Island. While Pavelic “talked and watched and sketched”
and her friend Karl Spreitz took photographs, Trudeau “talked, sat,
stood, leaned. He browsed through her books and magazines.”

Over the next three months, Pavelic worked on forty sketches and
drawings in charcoal, graphite, conte, and ink, and painted acrylic
color studies—all reproduced in this attractively designed book—to
assemble a body of work from which four or five would emerge for final

The (appropriately bilingual) text, written by Pavelic’s biographer,
Ted Lindberg, places each work of art in the context of the cumulative
process by which sketches, and the more carefully rendered drawings,
provide insights into the attitudes of the subject—his body language,
mannerisms, gestures, and general bearing—which eventually contribute
to the realization of a likeness. Many of these preliminary studies are
more striking than the ultimate portrait: a graphite-on-paper drawing,
“Hand on Chin” depicts Trudeau turning slightly in his chair to
stare at the viewer, his thumb brushing his upper lip—a characteristic
pose with a liveliness and spontaneity absent from the static,
monumental acrylic-on-canvas Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Everyone interested in the creative process will enjoy this book;
Trudeau fans will probably regret the omission of personal references.
Did he have particular favorites among the 40 studies? Did he explain to
the artist his reasons for choosing the painting designated as the
“official portrait”? Amateur psychoanalysts will be intrigued that
between two almost identical acrylics, each portraying Trudeau draped in
a green loden cape with the ubiquitous rose in the lapel, he chose the
background with the cool hard-edged geometry over the turbulent blue sky
with its “hint of melodrama.” More information on the process by
which an official portrait is commissioned would enhance our
appreciation of Pavelic’s role. Did a committee create the shortlist,
and why did the official unveiling take place a full year after the
portrait was completed?


Lindberg, Ted., “A Portrait by Myfanwy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11700.