Now and then, on your travels, you come across something that comes as a total surprise. You could say that about Annapolis Royal, a pretty town on the shores of Nova Scotia that is the oldest settlement in North America (more on that in a future post). But on its main street is another great surprise: a room full of lost art, recently recovered after centuries in the dark.
I found the artworks in a large, red building on St. George Street — in fact, one of the oldest buildings in town, and in Canada. In the 1780s, the place was known as the Sinclair Inn. Today, it’s a historical site, filled with descriptions of life in those times, and the people who lived and worked here.
The inn was a stopover for the traders and businessmen who passed through Annapolis Royal. And a fascinating cast of characters must have spent some time within its walls. Among them were a few artists. And since art was a precarious occupation then, as it is now, they were often short of money.
Luckily for them, Frederick Sinclair, owner of the inn, was a lover of art, or so it seems. If the painter didn’t have the money to pay his rent, Sinclair allowed him to work it off by painting the walls of the big front room. A few artists made their mark over the years, until the entire room was decorated with paintings.
The room may have been renowned in its day, but whatever fame it achieved soon faded away. And so did the paintings, covered with wallpaper and forgotten. That is, until a few years ago, when a leaky roof damaged one wall of the room and the painting underneath was discovered. An art restorer from Europe was called in, and one by one, the paintings saw the light of day, for the first time in more than 200 years.
Today, the room is available for escorted visits. And standing there, viewing the artwork, is a fascinating experience. The paintings are faded and brown, and badly stained in some places. But even then, they’re full of life.
At first glance, the room looks like one long panorama of life in the 1700s. But soon you realize it’s a number of different paintings. Most are landscapes or seascapes, with boats sailing in the bay and fishermen sitting on the bank with a fishing pole. But there’s also a portrait of an official-looking fellow in a military jacket, with a sword at his side; so far, his identity remains unknown. The longer you look, the more details you discover.
I could have spent an hour looking at the paintings, but my visit to the Sinclair Inn was over all too soon. However, before I left, I managed to take a panoramic photo showing half the room, with its artwork. Here it is: you can click on it and scan your way across the room to see the paintings in detail. Ir’s a little glimpse of life in the 1700s.