Renowned Queen Elizabeth II portrait on display at Art Galley of Peterborough

Click to play video: 'David Bierk’s Queen Elizabeth II portrait on display at Art Gallery of Peterborough'
David Bierk’s Queen Elizabeth II portrait on display at Art Gallery of Peterborough
The famous Queen Elizabeth II portrait which hung in the Peterborough Memorial Centre for nearly five decades is now on display at the Art Gallery of Peterborough. On Wednesday, the gallery launched a new exhibition featuring the portrait by the late artist David Bierk. His son Alex, a city councillor, spoke at the reception, recalling his father's labour of love on the project.

As he stood in the Art Gallery of Peterborough looking at the large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, Alex Bierk says he can “hear my dad painting on it, being excited about working on it.”

The city councillor spoke passionately about his father David Bierk as the portrait went on public display Wednesday evening for the first time since it was removed from the Peterborough Memorial Centre last fall where it hung over the ice for nearly five decades.

“So intuitively and immediately I’m connected to my dad’s big presence and his energy when I view this work,” Bierk told the audience.

READ MORE Art Galley of Peterborough acquires Queen Elizabeth II portrait from Memorial Centre

In February, the gallery acquired the eight f0ot-by-12-foot portrait, which was first installed at the arena in January 1980 and remained there until the State Funeral of the Queen on Sept. 19, 2022.

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Original commissioning documents, held at Trent Valley Archives in Peterborough, state that if the painting ever needed to be removed, it should be donated to the Art Gallery of Peterborough, or the Peterborough Public Library, whichever was preferred.

Briefly in 2003, the painting was removed from its original location due to arena renovations. However, public protest saw the portrait rehung.

Peterborough city councillor Alex Bierk talks about his father David’s Queen Elizabeth II portrait during a reception at the Art Gallery of Peterborough on June 7, 2023.
Peterborough city councillor Alex Bierk talks about his father David’s Queen Elizabeth II portrait during a reception at the Art Gallery of Peterborough on June 7, 2023. Harrison Perkins/Special to Global New Peterborough

Bierk follows in his father’s footsteps as an oil painter and says the portrait is a labour of love. He recalled running around the Memorial Centre as a kid looking up at the painting.  Bierk’s brother Zac is a former Peterborough Petes player. David died in 2002 at the age of 58.

“The painting intersects my dad’s love of sports and his life as an artist and how it hung over Zac’s head all those years he played for the Petes,” Alex said.

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The portrait was launched as part of the gallery’s Special Project: Tea with the Queens exhibition, a short-run project to showcase David Bierk’s painting, Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II before it goes into collection storage joining the Permanent Collection.

The portrait will hang in the gallery until June 29 alongside works by artists who are Indigenous, queer, and living with disabilities.

“We’ve got a lot of works by David Bierk so it’s pretty exciting to have this joining a number of his other pieces,” curator Fynn Leitch said.

There will also be a series of afternoon tea sittings or “Tea with the Queens,” hosted by local drag performers Betty Baker and Sahira Q.  Seatings will take place on June 11 and June 14 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and June 22 at 4 p.m. Tickets are available to purchase in person at the gallery or by calling 705-743-9179 during regular business hours.

David Bierk and members of the Major Bennett Chapter of the IODE as his portrait of “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II” was installed at the Peterborough Memorial Centre on Jan. 9, 1980. Photo provided by Trent Valley Archives from the Major Bennett IODE Fonds.
The portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hung over the Memorial Centre from 1980 to 2022. Peterborough Petes photo


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Mayor Jeff Leal recalled he and others taking classes under David Bierk who was seen as an “artistic genius” and helped many to “develop a unique love of the arts.”

Bierk says his family is appreciative of the gallery for accepting the painting.

“The amount of calls I got asking if I was going to take the painting — no!” he quipped as he waved his hands. “We’re really glad it’s here. It’s safe and being a part of the collection at the Art Gallery of Peterborough will ensure it will live on in our community in really beautiful ways — ways like I felt when I walked into this room tonight.”

Also launched Wednesday was Wayfinding: Works from the Youth Art Mentorship Program, a collection of works by youth artists Amber Rose, A. Carabine, Charley Pesonen, Kellan Mackenzie, Lauren Armstrong, and Mujgan Hussein Zada who spent the last three months working with artist-mentor Spencer J. Harrison. The goal was to explore the professional practice of being an artist and produce an exhibition of their work. The youth were selected by a jury of arts professionals earlier this year.


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