Ottawa under fire for taking down Quebec art

A decision to replace paintings by a major Quebec artist with a portrait of the Queen at a federal government building is coming under fire in the artist's home province.

PQ wants paintings returned to Quebec

Alfred Pellan's painting of eastern Canada that was hanging in the Lester B. Pearson building in Ottawa until June. (CP)

The Parti Québécois says Quebec should repatriate two works of art that have been taken down from the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa in favour of a portrait of the Queen.

The paintings by celebrated Quebec artist Alfred Pellan have been removed at the request of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, and replaced by a giant portrait of Her Majesty.

The pro-independence party says the gesture shows how little the Conservative government cares about Quebec's culture.

It says the move probably wasn't intended as an insult and was simply a goodwill gesture for the visit of Prince William and Kate, who attended a Canada Day event at the building.

But it says that gesture spoke volumes.

"As a sovereigntist, I want the maximum number of Quebecers to know how the foreign affairs minister of Canada feels about Quebec art," PQ culture critic Yves-Francois Blanchet said in an interview Wednesday with Canadian Press.

"If there was a message [intended by Ottawa] it was aimed at the Royal Family: 'Look, you're welcome here, we did this for you.'

"It's not a message aimed at Quebecers. It's a lack of respect for Quebecers. It's an indifference to artists, to Quebec art."

Pellan among 'most important' Canadian artists, says biographer

Alfred Pellan, a Quebecer and staunch federalist, is considered a pivotal player who helped introduce modern painting to Canada. The removal of his work came as a shock to those who are familiar with his career.

"I think it's very shocking," said Germain Lefebvre, the artist's biographer. "Alfred Pellan is one of the most important painters of Canada. Those paintings are masterpieces."

Lefebvre said Pellan helped modernize Canadian painting by introducing cubism and surrealism.

The paintings in Ottawa were more traditional. They were brightly-coloured landscapes – one representing eastern Canada and another one of western Canada.

Pellan died in the 1980s but his vision lived on in the lobby of the Pearson building until last month when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird ordered them replaced.

Lefebvre said removing the paintings was a big mistake.

A spokesman for Baird told CBC News that the minister has nothing against the Pellan paintings but he says the minister wanted to re-dedicate that particular wall to the Queen to mark her 60th anniversary on the throne next year.

Lefebvre finds that baffling.

"You can see pictures of the Queen anywhere else. [Pellan's] paintings are unique," he said.

The Pellan paintings will be temporarily put in storage until a new home can be found, said Baird's spokesman.

An image of the Queen now hangs where paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan used to hang. ((CP))

With files from the Canadian Press