Queen's portrait pulled down, Alfred Pellan paintings back up in Foreign Affairs building

The Queen Elizabeth portrait is out and twin paintings by Quebec modern master Alfred Pellen are back in. The artistic switch had employees at Foreign Affairs turning their heads as they arrived at work this morning.

Pellan's twin pieces had hung above reception desk since 1973 until Conservatives took them down

A portrait of the Queen at the entrance of the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa was replaced by twin paintings by celebrated Quebec artist Alfred Pellan today. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press and CBC News)

The Queen Elizabeth portrait is out and twin paintings by Quebec modern master Alfred Pellan are back in.

Today, the paintings Canada West and Canada East are back on display on the wall in the front reception area at the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa, four years after they were taken down and replaced by a giant portrait of the Queen.

John Babcock, a spokesman for the newly named Global Affairs Canada, said the re-installation of the pair of paintings represents "continued interest in representing the best of Canada at every opportunity."

"Global Affairs Canada is committed to showcasing Canada, our art and our culture in all of our facilities, whether at home here in Canada or abroad in our embassies, high commissions and consulates," he wrote in a statement to CBC News. "These brightly coloured paintings ... depict some of the best of Canada and are an excellent way to welcome Canadians and guests to Global Affairs Canada."

Former Liberal foreign affairs minister John Manley called the move entirely appropriate and said displaying such a large portrait in such a prominent location sent "the wrong message."

"The Queen plays a constitutional role in Canada, but Canada should be recognized by all the people who come in to the department of foreign affairs or global affairs, building for the modern, independent country that it is," he told CBC News. 

1st commissioned for Brazil

The paintings were originally commissioned for the first Canadian mission in Brazil for its opening in 1944, and were painted just after Pellan had returned from Paris and the Second World War, Babcock said. They were originally placed above the reception desk when Queen Elizabeth officially opened the building in 1973.

The switch had employees at Foreign Affairs turning their heads as they arrived at work. Here's one tweet:

In 2011, then foreign affairs minister John Baird instructed that the pair of historic paintings by celebrated Quebec modern master Alfred Pellan be replaced by a 2002 portrait of the Queen. 

The change was ordered before the visit of Prince William and Kate in June 2011. 

After sitting in storage for more than two years, the paintings were later installed on another wall in the building, in a less prominent position.

In addition to the Foreign Affairs Lester B. Pearson Building on Sussex Drive, embassies and missions abroad were also instructed to display portraits of the Queen.

'Outrageous' move

But Robert Finch, dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, was not impressed with the change, calling it "outrageous" on Twitter.

Finch told CBC News the fact that Liberals have spoken in strong support of the monarchy in the past makes the decision "all the more puzzling and frustrating."

"Why not simply display all three portraits?" he said. "The Queen with the Alfred Pellan together. That's probably what should have been done four years ago and it's what should be done today."

Government documents revealed the Conservative government had quietly planned to sell the Pellan paintings, but the plan was spiked after a public outcry in Quebec.

At the time, the paintings were valued at $90,000 each.

Under the Conservatives, the monarchy also took a greater role in names of the military branches.

No plan to undo royal military branding

The royal rebranding saw Maritime Command and Air Command renamed the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, names that had not been used in more than four decades. The army, formally known as the Land Force Command, was renamed the Canadian Army.

The royal designation was removed from the navy and air force in 1968 when the branches were renamed and brought under one central command named the Canadian Forces.

Tina Crouse, spokeswoman for Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, said there is no plan to revert back to previous names.