IN MY BOOK “Faces of Destiny,” I had this to say about the problem of photographing Prime Minister Mackenzie King:
... He will never permit himself to be dramatized to the slightest degree ... I have yet to make a portrait of him which satisfies me or reveals his human qualities and great abilities . . . My many failures are a matter of personal regret, for he represents a challenge.
A short time after my book was published, Mr. King’s secretary phoned me and said: “We can all take a hint. I hope you will succeed this time.”
At first I didn’t get the inference. Then the secretary explained. The Prime Minister wanted I a color photograph taken and he wanted me to take it.
When I visited Laurier House to discuss the matter I was told that Mr. King would wear the clothes I asked him to, pose where I wished him to, and give me all the time I needed. At home the Prime Minister relaxes. He is always a gracious host and even operated the house elevator which leads to the third floor library, which is his study and a veritable treasure house.
It was suggested that I use one of the corners of the library for the portrait, with the books as a background. There was a reference to the “Treasury of the Humble”—that particular shelf that contains the Prime Minister’s most cherished books, volumes that belonged to his grandfather, brother and maternal grandfather and others which he has chosen as his special companions.
But I seldom like to photograph anyone against a book background. I decided instead to make the portrait in one of the caucus rooms in the Parliament Buildings. It is my opinion that no one is more entitled to be portrayed in that environment than the Prime Minister.
They Both Lost Sleep
1 SELECTED a few props from Mr. King’s own desk at Laurier House and transferred them to the Parliament Buildings the next day. We devoted the entire afternoon to making the portrait— interrupted only by a few minutes for tea.
“It’s fortunate that the actual taking of this portrait came only one day after I learned of your intention of being photographed,” I told him, as we were relaxing. “In this case I lost only a few hours of sleep. With longer notice I would have lost much more.”
Mr. King remarked that on the previous night
he himself hadn’t
Continued on page 73
Premier King in Color
Continued from page 24
slept well. Long after midnight, he told me, he had paced restlessly around his room, turning over in his mind the problem of naming several ambassadors. It might be a good thing, he remarked whimsically, if Barbara Ann Scott could be sent to one of the important posts.
When we returned to the business of making the portrait, I caught a fleeting expression on his face which reminded me forcibly of one of Gladstone’s portraits. I remarked on this
to Mr. King who looked pleased. Later on I discovered the Prime Minister is an ardent admirer of Gladstone and wears his cuff links which were presented to him by Gladstone’s daughter.
Later, he asked me: “Karsh—did you make that remark about looking like Gladstone just to make me feel good?”
On that Saturday, March 15, 1947, I made what I consider my most representative portrait of William Lyon Mackenzie King. After 10 years of trials and errors, mainly errors, I felt at last that I had been successful.
I hope that this is the portrait for the history books. ie
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.