The official portrait of Ontario’s 25th premier, Kathleen Wynne, will be unveiled Monday evening by the man who knocked her out of the job, Premier Doug Ford.
The ceremony is the latest in a tradition — dating back more than a century — to hang life-sized paintings of past premiers and speakers in the halls of the provincial legislature.
Wynne’s portrait will make Ontario history as the first of a woman.
“It’s really important to me that young girls see themselves reflected,” Wynne said in an interview at Queen’s Park. “Every time I see a group of school kids coming through I want to say to them, ‘And there’s going to be a woman on the walls soon.'”
Premiers’ portraits are only commissioned after they leave office and are always unveiled by the current premier. For Wynne, that means a political rival presides over the ceremony.
“I am quite sure it’s going to be a gracious event, that we will rise above that partisanship,” said Wynne.
“Doug Ford and I don’t agree on anything, really. But he is the premier, and it’s the position that’s important,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the party stripe, we all have a responsibility to the people of Ontario, and that’s what the position is about.”
Wynne chose Toronto artist Linda Kooluris Dobbs to paint her portrait. The artist painted David Peterson in the 1990s in a manner that broke the mold for Ontario premiers.
In his official portrait, Peterson isn’t wearing a suit jacket, his tie is loosened, his sleeves are rolled up and personal mementos are on display. All previous portraits show premiers looking formal, with nondescript backgrounds.
“I always loved David Peterson’s portrait,” said Wynne. “I wanted a realistic portrayal. I wanted someone who could capture my expression, and I hope people think she has.”
Only a handful of people have seen the portrait ahead of its unveiling: including the framer, the curator of the province’s art collection, and Wynne.
Wynne says she is happy with the portrait, although she describes the experience of seeing herself in a life-size oil painting as bizarre.
“It is a strange thing but I’m trying to approach it as the position,” Wynne said. “The position is important to our democratic system and a record of that position and who has filled that position is important.”
Dobbs painted Wynne from a selection of photos taken earlier this year and spent from May until September working on it full-time.
Wynne chose several items of symbolic value for the artist to include in the portrait. Among them are gifts she received from Indigenous people during her time as premier, as well as her running shoes.
In an interview, Dobbs revealed a few more tidbits about the portrait.
Wynne is standing, wearing a dress, with a scarf and shoes that Dobbs describes as elegant. She said the artwork is overall very bright, with a lot of light, soft pastel colours contrasting against a wood backdrop, and “very feminine.”
When Wynne first saw the finished portrait, she told Dobbs that it looks just the way she sees herself.
“Her face lit up with the biggest smile and she said, ‘Oh my, the detail. It’s all I could have ever hoped for in a portrait,'” Dobbs said. “For me, it’s so important that I enter inside of a person’s soul and pull them out into the work. To have had her say that meant I did get it.”
Wynne is not wearing the glasses that she wore until a few years ago, but she is holding them, said Dobbs. Included in the background are photos of Wynne’s family, including her grandchildren and her wife Jane Rounthwaite.
The provincial government pays for each premier’s portrait and retains ownership through the Archives of Ontario. Wynne’s cost $50,000, said an official with for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.