Madame Georges Vanier, née Marie Eugénie Pauline Archer 1929

Standing three-quarter length to the left, head turned three-quarter profile and looking  to the left, wearing an organza stole over her evening dress and a laurel wreath in her hair, her left hand resting on the back of a French gilt and upholstered armchair, her right holding the train of her dress behind her, with an arrangement of roses on a table beside the chair.

Oil on canvas, 167.6 x 111.7 cm (66 x 41 in.)

Inscribed lower right: de László / LONDON 1929 

Laib L15594(511) / C27(28): Madame Vanier

NPG Album 1929-31, p. 13

Sitters’ Book II, f. 65: Pauline Vanier nov. 23rd 1929.

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, on loan to Rideau Hall

De László completed a preparatory sketch for this portrait [10047] and a charcoal study [10056] of the sitter the following year. The artist regularly made an additional portrait drawing of his subject as a token of mutual affection engendered during the sittings. In the instance of Madame Vanier’s portrait commission, the painting was completed in de László’s London studio while the charcoal study was made in Paris. It was inscribed: To my charming sitter / Paris 1930 and de László’s favourable opinion of his sitter was echoed in a letter to her husband: “It is not often that one has the privilege to have a sitter so congenial and sympathetic.”[1] Sittings took place in two concentrated groups from 19-23 and 26-29 November, with a final sitting on 5 December.[2]

De László and Lucy also visited Madame Vanier at her home in Geneva in February 1930, where they saw the portrait hanging: “visited Mde= Vanier’s house (flat) to see her picture – Lucien Simon[3] painted her too – an awful thing; to compare it with P’s beautiful work, seems to show one man to be a real artist & the other merely a chimeney sweep making an attempt at a picture.”[4]

Madame Vanier was described in her obituary in the Daily Telegraph as a: “tall, elegant woman with a musical laugh,”[5] De László has somewhat exaggerated her height and slim frame, accentuating the sitter’s air of refinement and grace. The laurel wreath worn by Madame Vanier was one of the artist’s studio props; used to adorn the heads of the Duchess of Portland in 1912 [4417], Mrs Austen Chamberlain in 1915 [3801], Lady Kathleen Stanley in 1920 [2117], and his wife, Lucy, in 1936 [7466].

Marie Eugénie Pauline Archer was born 28 March 1898 in Montréal, Canada, the daughter of Justice Charles Archer (1869-1934) and his wife Marie-Thérèse de Salaberry (1874-1905). She was baptised 30 March 1898 at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. On 9 September 1921 she married Major Georges Philias Vanier (1888-1967), a founding member of Canada’s first French-Canadian volunteer force, the Royal 22nd Regiment. He served in France and Belgium during the First World War and was highly decorated being awarded the Military Cross and Distinguished Service Order having lost a leg in action.  The two met after his return to Canada from the front and he again began practicing law. They had one daughter and four sons: Thérèse (born 1923), Georges (born 1925), Bernard (born 1927), Jean (born 1927), and Michel (born 1929).

Madame Vanier accompanied her husband on his military and diplomatic postings to Ottawa, Quebec City, Geneva and London, then Paris and Algiers during the Second World War. In September 1944 she and her husband returned to France just after it had been liberated, and were appointed the first Canadian Ambassador and Ambassadress to France in Paris. Madame Vanier took her duties as Ambassadress very seriously. In her position as representative of the Canadian Red Cross in France, she worked hard, with her husband’s support, to provide relief to the starving bargees of Normandy.[6] When General Vanier retired from his post in France in 1953, and just before leaving the country, his wife’s efforts as Ambassadress and her achievements in aid of the Red Cross were publicly acknowledged, the French Government awarding her the Légion d’Honneur.

Madame Vanier played a key role in her husband’s term in office when he was appointed the first Governor-General of Canada in 1959, a position he held until his death in 1967. She was later appointed a member of the Privy Council of Canada by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, and a Companion of the Order of Canada. She was a devout Catholic with a strong sense of charitable responsibility, founding the Vanier Institute of the Family in 1965. Both Madame Vanier and her husband have been nominated for beatification in the Roman Catholic Church on account of their piety and dedication to good works.

Several years after her husband’s death, Madame Vanier moved to Paris to share a house with patients from L’Arche community for the mentally handicapped, founded by her son Jean. She devoted herself entirely to the community until her death in 1991 in Compiègne, near L’Arche. The sitter is buried beside her husband in the memorial of the Royal 22nd Regiment in Quebec City.


Presented to the National Gallery of Canada by the sitter’s husband in 1962;

On loan to Rideau Hall, Ottawa, official residence of the Governor-General

of Canada


•Hubbard, R.H., Rideau Hall, with a foreword by His Excellency The Right Honourable Jules Leger, Governor General of Canada and the late General Georges P. Vanier, D.S.O., M.C., C.D., 1967

Rideau Hall: Canada’s Living Heritage, Friends of Rideau Hall, 1929, ill.

•Clarkson, Adrienne, Heart Matters, Penguin Books Canada, 2007

•Coady, Mary Frances, Georges and Pauline Vanier: Portrait of a Couple, McGill Queens University Press, 2011, p. 88

• László, Philip de, 1929 appointment book, private collection

• László, Lucy de, 1930 diary, private collection

KF 2013

[1] Coady, op. cit.

[2] László, Philip de, 1929 appointment book, op cit.

[3] Lucien J. Simon (1861-1945), a French painter and teacher, who exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais from 1891, also at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts

[4] László, Lucy de, op cit. 23 February entry

[5] “Obituary: Pauline Vanier,” Sunday Telegraph, 14 April 1990.

[6] ‘Obituary: Pauline Vanier’, Sunday Telegraph, 14th April 1990. Bargees are boatmen of the working barges on the canals of northern Europe.