In 1710, a delegation of four Native American leaders—three Mohawk from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) alliance and one Mohican from the Algonquin nations—traveled to the Court of Queen Anne in London. The delegation traveled to London with British military leaders seeking to court support against competing French and their allied Native interests in North America.
To commemorate the delegates’ visit, Queen Anne commissioned John Verelst, a Dutch portrait artist residing in London, to paint their official portraits. They are the earliest known surviving oil portraits from life of Native people of North America. So popular were the “Four Indian Kings” that printmaker John Simon created mezzotints after these paintings. While the “Four Kings,” as they became known, were not the first Native visitors to Britain, their presence at Court and their interactions with Londoners, who treated them as celebrities, ignited the British imagination. Poems, ballads, and music were written about them. The portraits of the “Four Indian Kings” function as a record of early cultural and political diplomacy between the Haudenosaunee and the British, demonstrating discourse, negotiation, and alliance. For more than a hundred years, the portraits were displayed at Court, where many visitors saw them. Subsequently, they were acquired by the Petre family in Essex, and in 1977 they were purchased by Canada with a special grant from the Canadian Government.
The Portrait Gallery of Canada, a program of Library and Archives Canada, is pleased to loan the portraits to the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.