The portrait collection at Osgoode Hall consists of over 100 paintings and numerous sculptures, drawings and prints. Started in 1846, it continues to grow as new Treasurers (the elected president of the Law Society) and Chief Justices are immortalized. The collection also includes likenesses of long-serving staff members and other individuals linked to the organization. Corporate and government portrait collections are not rare in Canada, but the Law Society’s is one of the earliest and most cohesive.
There is a strong connection between the collection and Osgoode Hall. Both the art and the architecture symbolized the growing confidence and stability of the young Law Society and the developing justice system of the colony. From its creation, the Law Society saw itself as a pillar of the administration of justice, a fact reflected in its vision of Osgoode Hall as the joint headquarters of the Law Society and the high courts. It may explain why, after accepting the gift of the portrait of Chief Justice Robinson in 1846, the Law Society assumed the responsibility of commissioning the portraits of the Chief Justices.
The commissions of portraits of Treasurers came later. In the early years of the Law Society, the position was not particularly prestigious and the few portraits that we have from the period were expressions of respect and admiration for the sitter rather than for the position. This changed in the late 19th century and the collection has been uninterrupted since then.
Today, the collection provides an invaluable account of the evolution of portraiture in Canada. It is an extensive record of individuals who shaped our judicial institutions and in many cases also changed the course of Canadian history.