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Canada's Four Kings star in U.K. Portrait Gallery show

Portraits of four native diplomats are on show in London again, nearly 300 years after the original subjects created a sensation in the British capital with their visit.

Portraits of four native diplomats are on show in London again, nearly 300 years after the original subjects created a sensation in the British capital with their visit.

The quartet of well-known portraits, dubbed the Four Indian Kings of Canada, are the stars of Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain, 1700-1850.

The new exhibition, which opened Thursday at the National Portrait Gallery in London, features images of several high-profile, non-European visitors who thrilled 18th and early 19th-century England.

The Four Kings portraits depict native diplomats the Iroquois Confederacy sent to Queen Anne's court in 1710 to assert its sovereignty as an aboriginal nation.

"They fired the British imagination because they were such unique visitors," Lilly Kolton, director general of the Portrait Gallery of Canada, told CBC News.

The emissaries' visit caused such excitement that the Queen commissioned artist John Verelst to paint their portraits.

"They were so eloquent simply in gesture that they actually gave a very imposing impression. The portraits, I think, reflect that. They were painting as though they were regal and royal," Kolton said.

The portraits remained in the royal collection and wererarely seen in public until 1977, when the Canadian government purchased them.

The paintings are now on loan to London from Library and Archives Canada, the parent organization of the proposed Canadian portrait gallery project.

As their predecessors did nearly three centuries ago, Six Nations leaders sent their own delegate to London for the exhibit's opening celebrations: aboriginal curator and historian Keith Jamieson.

Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700-1850 continues at London's National Portrait Gallery until June 17.

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