Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the work of Trinidad's first internationally renowned artist Michel-Jean Cazabon is so unknown in this country that it's embarrassing.
He said at least 95 per cent of students did not know "anything about Cazabon, far less his history and our history tied up in what Cazabon represents."
At the Octagon Room of the Diplomatic Centre on Saturday, 49 paintings depicting T&T's iconic landscapes, nature, people and buildings were unveiled to guests.
Some of the names in the collection include Old Woodbrook Estate, Pine House, House in Trinidad, East Indian Girl, Dry River, Port-of-Spain, River Scene and Maracas River.
Rowley, during his address in the ballroom before the unveiling, said it was around 2005 that he encouraged former prime minister Patrick Manning "who willingly agreed to be encouraged" to have the country buy several pieces of paintings that were on sale in London and repatriate them to T&T.
He said they were kept at a museum but he always felt they should have been made available to the public.
"They were not presented to the people as they should," he said.
But later on, and during a difficult economic period, the PM said another batch of Cazabon's paintings were being offered for sale. This time, as Prime Minister, he encouraged the Cabinet to make the purchase.
"This evening is an opportunity to present them, firstly to you," he said at the launch of the "Cazabon Legacy Exhibition."
Last year, the Government announced the purchase of 12 Cazabon paintings which cost close to $3 million via auction by Christie's Auction House of London. That decision was met with criticism from the Opposition and union leaders who said the money could have been spent on other priority items.
The exhibition is open to the public until September 24. It is the first time the Diplomatic Centre will host such an exhibition.
Rowley said 19th Century Cazabon should be embraced and that children needed to know their history. Cazabon was born on September 30, 1813 and died on November 20, 1888. He is buried at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery.
Rowley said: "Look at the paintings and transpose yourselves from there to where we are now."
He said if there was any sense of hopelessness or disillusionment, look at the paintings and see the progress.
"We are on the way to a brighter future," he said.
The Prime Minister said every day in the news there were reports of violence, even in his own constituency where four people were killed recently.
"And some people would want to think that is what we are but there is a much wider canvas."
Rowley said the behaviour of the country could change if children were exposed to the work of the artist.
In her remarks, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the one-month exhibition was also a celebration of Emancipation, Independence and Republic Day.
She said: "It is a time of taking stock of national introspection, a time when we think about who we are, where we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there."
Guests were treated to performances by the National Steel Symphony Orchestra which received high praises from Rowley.
According to Cazabon's biography as written by curator Geoffrey MacLean, the artist was sent to England at the age of 13 to attend St Edmund's College in Ware.
He studied art in Paris. Cazabon returned to Trinidad in 1848 and in 1851 produced a series of 18 lithographs–Views of Trinidad. In 1857, he published a second series–Album of Trinidad and in 1860, contributed to two other series–Views of Demerara and Album Martiniquaise.
MacLean wrote: "Cazabon's oeuvre is extensive; his work shows a wide knowledge of media –oils, watercolourist, gouache, gesso. Although he was primarily a watercolourist and landscape artist, both his formal and informal portraits are highly valued, and his illustration for the newspapers of the day are of important historic significance."
Cazabon married Louise Rosalie Trolard in Paris and had three children.