The National Art Gallery

MADGE MacBETH September 1 1915

The National Art Gallery

MADGE MacBETH September 1 1915

The National Art Gallery


A NATION’S consciousness is expressed through the medium of its Art; and Canada, it may be said, is only now merging from infancy and childhood, into artistic adolescence. It may sound like a platitude to say that this is no aspersion upon our Dominion; it is the common lot of every youngster amongst nations, just as it is the lot of every child to fight for bare existence first, and spiritual development afterward.

The term Art naturally includes Painting, Sculpture, Music, Literature and the Drama, but as the title indicates, we will deal in this article with the first, only.

Thirty-five years ago, the germ of a National Art Gallery was born in Canada, when in the year 1880 the Marquis of Lome, then Governor-General, and Her Royal Highness, the Princess Louise, established the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, which had as one of its aims the culmination in a National Gallery to be built at Ottawa and to be developed as nearly as possible after the English Na-

tional Gallery. It began with the deposited diploma pictures of the Royal Canadian Academy, and grew slowly by means of loan and gift and purchase. It was under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Works and was accorded the right to an annual Government appropriation just as any other national institution was supported. As was the case with the Parliamentary Library and the Archives, centralization was the first necessity in the up-building of the Art Gallery, centralizing the somewhat sporadic efforts of Canadian artists, and pictures were collected for exhibition in the building generally known as the “Fisheries Building.” This stands on the corner of O’Connor and Queen streets, Ottawa.

TN 1907 sufficient pressure was brought to bear upon the Government to warrant a change in the administration of the Gallery. In response to incessant requests from divers interested persons, an Advisory Arts Council was appointed^-

a body who should enquire into the advisability of making certain purchases, who should spend the annual appropriation with judgment and without prejudice and above all, perhaps, who should set about arranging for suitable exhibition quarters for the pictures already in the possession of the Government. Space was given the National Gallery in the new Victoria Memorial Museum pending the building of a permanent home for Art. The transfer of the pictures took place in 1911.

The members of the Advisory Arts Council were Sir George Alexander Drummond, Chairman; Sir Edmund Walker and Senator Arthur Boyer. Upon the death of Sir George Drummond, Dr. Francis J. Shepherd was appointed to fill the vacancy and Sir Edmund Walker was elected chairman.

Further progress was made when in 1913 the National Gallery of Canada was incorporated by an Act of Parliament, and the functions and responsibilities of the Advisory Arts Council were re-invested in them as “the Trustees of the National Gallery of Canada” with the powers

of a Dominion Government Commission.

As was said, the Gallery grew by means of gift and loan and purchase. Among the first of those anxious to aid the institution in a material manner were the Governor-General and his Royal Consort. The Marquis of Lorne sat for his portrait to Millais, who presented his work to the Art Gallery in 1884; Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise presented a painting in oils by herself called The Portrait of a Woman; George Frederick Watts gave Time, Death and Judgment as long ago as 1887 ; Lord Leighton in 1883 presented a canvas entitled Sansonne; several Parliamentarians donated pictures to the National Gallery and a great number were given by members of the Royal Canadian Academy. Coming down to more recent times, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Patricia, presented two oils— painted by herself—one, Hyacinths and Porcelain, and the other—a charming bit evidently done in the grounds of Government House, Ottawa—called A Woodland Glade.

Through the kindly offices of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, a portrait of the Duke of Kent by Sir William Beechy was presented by Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise, as recently as 1912. The Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, is represented in the uniform of the 14th Light Dragoons, and on his hat is inscribed the word “Emsdorf,” the name of a battle in Germany at which the regiment was present.

T E A VING aside the pictures which

1 are brought or sent to the Gallery for inspection and possible purchase, artists’ works come to the notice of the Trustees at the annual exhibitions of such organizations as the Royal Canadian Academy, the Canadian Art Club, the Ontario Society of Artists, all in Toronto, and the Montreal Spring Exhibition, in Montreal. There, decision is made as to what purchases shall swell the coffers and the ambitions of exhibitors, few of whom, however, can hope just now to occupy space on the walls of the Gallery at Ottawa. For, since the occupancy of the Museum wing, the number of pictures has increased so enormously that there is nothing like space adequate for the hanging of all the paintings in the possession of the Government. Many of them are loaned to various exhibitions and are made visible to the public in such a manner.

Quoting Mr. Eric Brown, the curator of the Gallery, “A National Art Gallery should be the place where the national and international standards of Art are kept. And, just as we go to standard weights and measures to check up our own, so we go to the National Gallery to correct our ideas and opinions on Art.”

From an educational standpoint an art gallery should aid in the development of a country’s art, and teach the people merely by the pictures it collects, to understand art, an accomplishment which is already an accepted fact in Canada, as the following will prove.

A PARDONABLY proud exhibitor happened to be in the Gallery standing before her own work. What thoughts passed through her artist’s mind and what

high ambitions surged through her artist’s soul, we do not enquire. She became conscious that a man was standing beside her also intent upon her picture. He was not the type of person one would

expect to find in a Gallery, looking more like a machinist out of work than anything else.

Becoming conscious of one another, the man ventured a remark with all the insouciance and freemasonry of the artist born.

“I don’t know the first thing about pictures,” he said, “but it does me good to browse about in here. Some pictures seem to have something to say to me—and I like to keep still and listen . . . Now that

one, there” (indicating Die woman’s work) “it calls me back every time I get away. Likely it is poor stuff, but it just appeals to me!”

Then there is the purely pleasurable side. No one disputes that there are those amongst us who go to a concert, who read a book, who attend the theatre and who trip through art galleries solely on pleasure bent. Every year there is an increasingly large number of such visitors to our National Institution. Again, it provides a means by which artists may copy the world’s best paintings, the restrictions to this privilege being slight. Permission, of course, must be obtained from the Director.

A lady copying in the Gallery recently found herself the subject of conversation between some out-of-town visitors. She was at work on a new and particularly worthy canvas, and was amused to overhear the strangers, commiserating with her.

“Funny that she would choose that silly looking thing,” said one in a whisper. “Look at all the lovely flowers and animals she could copy.”

“Oh well,” explained another, “I suppose they only let people tinker with the worst ones!”

TN order to stimulate interest in the

annual exhibitions, the trustees of the Art Gallery arranged an award of one thousand dollars in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Academy for the best work of the young artist—subject to restrictions as to age, nationality and so on. This award is called a travelling scholarship, designed to make it possible for the successful competitor to spend several months abroad in study. The war has, of course made such travel impossible, but the practice will be resumed upon its conclusion.

It is thought by the Director that the increased stimulus on the part of the painters who compete for the scholarships will result not only in better work for Canada, but will bring Canadian art more closely in touch with that of other countries through the members of a foreign jury whose personnel should be changed every year.

The Canadian National Art Gallery contains over one thousand and one hundred original works of art, beside more than one hundred of the best colored reproductions of the world’s most famous pictures. There is also an excellent collection of casts, prints, drawings, and sets of etchings and engravings.

Its premises at present consist of three floors of the east wing in the Victoria Memorial Museum ; the top—one very long picture gallery and seven small ones; the two lower floors, subdivided into courts, contain the sculpture and some reproductions.

In the case of both painting and sculpture the gallery contains a more or less continuous representation of the history of Art from the first century, A.D., to mediæval Italy and France; from the wonders of Phidias and his contemporaries, down to the present day.

GRUMBLES arise repeatedly from over-zealous and not too-broadly educated Canadians, for only Canadian art in the Gallery. Why not study only Canadian history or geography; why read any but Canadian books, sing any but Canadian songs, listen to any but Canadian plays and operas?

Comparisons are necessary, especially for those artists who are unable to travel, otherwise our work might easily take on a monotony of expression which would speedily kill all originality.

The work of the early Canadian painters was not Canadian but European. They painted in a groove, a rut. During the last ten years our artists have advanced far beyond those shackles and Canada is rapidly developing an art quite as distinctive and far-reaching as any of her contemporaries in a like period of years.

The earliest representation from a chronological viewpoint is a colored panel of a woman’s head. This was taken with several others from the face of a mummy in the Fayoum district. It is in a state of perfect preservation, “and is a most in-

teresting study of the first century A. D., showing considerable color, expression and a modernity of treatment altogether surprising.” The composition of the panel seems to be of encaustic wax or wax painting.

Fourteen hundred years are skipped, and we next come to the primitive Italians. Two paintings—‘The Saviour,” by Cima da Conegliano and “The Five Senses” by Frans de Vrient, commonly known as Frans Floris, who though a Dutchman took Italian traditions into Holland—express the ideals of those times. The early German school is represented by Durer’s contemporary, Bartholomaus de Bruyn, of whose work two portraits are in the possession of the Gallery. Primitive French Art is represented by a small Christ bearing a cross of the 14th century.

Coming down the ages to the Italian Renaissance, “The Magdalen,” by Andrea del Sarto, expresses the maturity of Florentine thought. An interesting sidelight on this painting is contained in the fact that it was removed from a wood panel to canvas.

Caravaggio was the first of the naturalist painters in Italy, as his magnificent painting, “Portrait of a Cardinal,” shows. Caravaggio was born in 1569 and, like so many of the Italian masters, he was a son of the people. Violent of temper and disposition, he loved to depict violence in nature on his canvases. In a fit of rage one day he killed a friend and was forced to flee from justice. Having obtained pardon from the Pope, for this and the added crime of quarreling with a knight, Caravaggio set out for Rome, but was captured by some Spaniards who mistook him for another man, and he was carried captive into Spain, where he eventually died.

The story of Spanish Art begins with the pictures attributed to Herrera, the younger, and to Gomez, and ends as far as we are concerned with with a fine portrait by Goya in the 18th century.

“The Dutch-English painting of the early 17th century is represented by a portrait of King Charles I., by Daniel Mytens, and by a double portrait of the Earl of Carrick and his sister, by Honthorst. From these, the purer English school is but a step, and is well represented by Hogarth,

Reynolds, Gainsborough,

Beechy, Hoppner and Lawrence.

“The French 19th century school begins with J. F. Millet’s well-known old painting, ‘Oedipus Taken From the Trees,’ a beautiful sea shore picture by Baudin, and a

charming little Corot; and continues through the year 1870, when the great impressionist movement began, with typical pictures by Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley.”

Mid-Victorian England is not neglected, as pictures of Sir John Millais, Holman Hunt and Lord Leighton testify.

TN sculpture, however, the British Halls

are empty. As the curator rather bitterly complains — “No persuasion or power has as yet been able to waken the insular mind to the necessity of creating any type collection of British sculpture, so no casts are available, and the galleries wait until some last straw of persistence or persuasion shall break the British lion of conservatism.”

I had an amusing experience one day just before the Museum was opened to the public. Wandering about the then bare halls in charge of a sort of caretaker, I came upon several casts which were being unpacked and made ready for exhibiting.

“Wonderful work,” I murmured, “and discouraging work in this practical world of ours.”

“Them?” snorted my guide. “I don’t see nothing wonderful in a feller sitting down all his life-time and chipping away at a piece of stone! They didn’t get no wages for it, either; what would a car-

penter or a bricklayer or a stonemason say, to-day, if you asked him to work for the rest of his life on a house that nobody could live in—just look at—and get no wages for it? Sta-tchus? Shucks!”

Who knows? Perhaps the British Halls are empty because this practical reasoning has filtered into the minds over there?

In spite of the war having reduced the buying of pictures to a minimum, some appreciation of the work of Canadian artists has been shown by the Trustees, who have recently purchased eighty pictures for the Gallery.

* I 'HE National Gallery was the first *■ Government Building to keep open on Sundays. There was, and is still, considerable opposition to the practice.

To enter any of the halls or courts, visitors must pass through a little turnstile which registers according to the number of people passing through. There is no doubt, if cold figures can be relied upon, that on Sundays the tally far exceeds that of week days, and the visitors who throng the halls are neither loafers who languish for something to do, nor are they idle sight-seers. They are people interested in pictures. The number of visitors in a year is something like forty thousand— which number would be considerably reduced were we to subtract the Sunday registration. Is not that an answer to the question?

The Completion of a Great Undertaking

The demarcation of the Alaskan-Canadian boundary line along the one hundred and fortyfirst meridian has now been brought to a successful conclusion. This task was commenced in 1907. Where the line runs through the dense forests a swathe twenty feet in width has been cut and cleared, and down this cleavage monuments have been planted at an average distance of from three to four miles. The monuments themselves are somewhat formidable, each comprising a bronze aluminum shaft five feet in height, and weighing three hundred pounds, planted in a solid block of concrete weighing one ton. The monuments are imperishable, and will always be easy to discover. The boundary line decided in this manner is about six hundred miles in length, and is indicated by about two hundred of the monuments described.