Searching for art and objects
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds more than a half-million works of art and objects dating back to the seventeenth century. This includes everything from paintings to digital designs in all sizes and formats, such as:
- works depicting various subject matter such as flora and fauna, landscapes and seascapes, city views
- cartoons and caricatures
- prints and posters
- greeting cards
- graphic design and advertisements
- digital designs
On this page
Before you start
Gather available information such as:
- creator (artist or institution)
- date or date range
- location or region
- cultural community or group
- name(s) of individuals or an organization
- medium (for example: painting, drawing, poster, postcard, button)
Places to look
The majority of our collection of art and objects must be consulted on site, though some catalogue entries contain digitized images.
Go to Collection Search and enter the types of keywords
You can search by subject, artist, (some) media or any combination of these key terms. For example, you can try:
- Watercolour sunset
- Engraving Cockburn Quebec
- First world war recruitment poster
- Editorial cartoon Trudeau
- Sculpture Suzuki
- Click the Search button
- Select Archives in the left hand menu. Then using the left hand filters under Type of material, select Art or objects.
For watercolours, use keyword "watercolour" rather than "painting". Watercolours are described as their own class of artwork by LAC.
For posters, try each of the three following terms separately: "print", "reproduction", or "poster".
If you are looking for non-military medals, use the general instructions located above. For military medals, use the Military medals, honours and awards, 1812-1969 database.
Print media (broadsides, engravings, illustrations in published material)
In addition to Collection Search, some printed material is also available through the library catalogue, Aurora. For example, the National Library Collection contains artwork in various publications such as books and newspapers.
Go to Aurora and enter the types of keywords
You can search by title, subject, artist, media, or any combination of these key terms. For example, you can try:
- Jean-Paul Lemieux Canada
- Canadian Illustrated News
- Election "in-plano"
- Click the Search button
For broadsides, note that only a small amount are held in the Archives holdings. The majority can be accessed by searching Aurora using the exact phrase "in-plano".
- Start with one or a combination of specific keywords, then widen your search to more general terms as needed, for example "First World War poster" broadened to "war poster".
- Most original titles are not translated. Use keywords in English and in French to improve search results. For example: search by both keywords "ship" and "navire", or "watercolour" and "aquarelle" at the same time.
- When searching for postage stamp design artwork, make sure to select both "Art" and "Stamps and stamp products" when filtering your search results.
If you're searching for a work you've seen in a book, a museum or online, look for its reference number. It can be in the form of an Item ID number (MIKAN number), accession number (starts with a year or, in rare cases, with an "R"), medal file number (MFN) or copy number (which either starts with an "e", "c" or "C-").
- Since not every work of art will have an item-level description or digital copy available, you may also discover records of interest with the help of finding aids, box lists or other inventories. If available, references or links to these lists are often located at fonds/collection level.
- A search may turn up an accession record and a descriptive record (for example, item or fonds-level record) that refer to the same material. Always use the descriptive record over the accession record, but keep track of the first two parts of the accession number as they can be a useful keyword (for example, 1990-106).
- Descriptions can have missing or inaccurate information, or contain historical names or outdated terms. In these cases, you may try using outdated terms if current names do not produce results. If you still do not find what you are looking for, try using related words or alternative spellings.
- Descriptions labelled [Graphic material] are not warnings about sensitive content or the need for viewer discretion. This is standard archival practice to indicate document type.
Access the records
If you find a description of interest, there may be a digital image available through Collection Search. Due to preservation concerns, you are encouraged to consult available digital reproductions rather than the originals, when possible.
Records that are not digitized
For the art and objects that are not digitized, you will need to make a request to see them in person, order copies or hire a researcher.
- Art must be consulted in the Specialized media room at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.
- Supervised consultation of material needing handling expertise, (ex: framed paintings, medals and oversized posters), must be viewed at the Preservation Centre in Gatineau.
- LAC requires a minimum of 10 working days to allow for retrieval of material.
For onsite research, use the Retrieval form. To order copies, use the Order form for copies. Provide the following details from the database description (if known):
- Collection or fonds name
- Artist or creating institution
- Item ID number (MIKAN)
- Copy number (which either starts with an "e", "c" or "C-")
- Accession number