Charles Pachter’s Lese-Majeste

Charles Pachter’s 1972 painting Noblesse Oblige, depicting the queen in regalia taking a salute mounted on a moose, deeply offended not only monarchists, but respectable Canadian opinion. Hence the title of my post. But it has since become an iconic Canadian image. If you don’t know it, you can see it as the thumbnail for my previous post.

A Lucky Acquisition

I have it as a silkscreen print, one of a limited edition of 15. Charles Pachter and I grew up in the same neighbourhood, and his younger brother was a classmate of mine. In the early Seventies, my mother had an art store, so I think she was aware of his work. He and I had one degree of separation, probably five different ways. I remember meeting Pachter at his downtown studio not long after I returned to Canada from graduate study in 1974 and buying his print. I also recall him telling us that his surname referred to his family’s origins in the shtetl Pesht.

Canada and the Monarchy

Pachter sensed earlier than many English Canadians the divergence and alienation between the British monarchy and our land and culture. His biographer Leonard Wise quotes Pachter writing about the Queen as someone “we didn’t really know, who isn’t one of us, who doesn’t live with us, who doesn’t visit very often, who doesn’t speak like us.” Replacing the expected horse with the moose, a Canadian symbol, was a way of expressing this alienation ironically.

Pachter created Noblesse Oblige before the monarch’s ongoing family dysfunction hit the headlines and led to many anni horribiles. Public opinion has certainly moved towards Pachter’s view.

Plus Ca Change

Visually, Prince Charles’s visit to the Northwest Territories struck me as yet another re-enactment of the alienation between the monarchy and our nation, this time our First Nations. At every moment, Charles was decked out in a bespoke Savile Row suit – though in a light colour, indicating informality (this post’s thumbnail). What kind of message would this send to First Nations people in buckskin and flannel?

Thank you, Charles Pachter, for half a century ago making so powerful an artistic statement about the vast and increasing cultural distance between our nation and that other Charles’.

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