National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 1 (I:1) May 1963

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A Review of Accessions since 
the Catalogues of 1957 and 1959 
European and American Painting and Sculpture

by R. H. Hubbard, Chief Curator

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The Scottish painter Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) came at the end of the great period of British painting in the eighteenth century. In spite of temptations to practise in London he remained in Edinburgh and became the leading Scottish portrait painter. A recent purchase by the National Gallery (1962), the portrait of Jacobina Copland, (12) illustrates the dazzling virtuosity of his brushstroke and his brilliant handling of colour to perfection. The picture was probably painted in 1794 at the time of the lady's first marriage, to John Ronaldson of Blairhall. Her mother was a member of the Dunbar family who trace their ancestry back to Crinan, the hereditary abbot of Dunkelf, whose son was murdered by Macbeth in 1040. It has been shown in two important Raeburn exhibitions (13) and was on extended loan at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, from 1950 to 1962.

The work of Raeburn's successor in Edinburgh, Sir John Watson Gordon (1788-1864) was carried out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Since 1948 he has been represented in the National Gallery by a half-length of the Edinburgh lapidary John Sanderson, the gift of the sitter's descendants in Vancouver. In 1958 the Gallery added the full-length portrait of the 9th Earl of Dalhousie, governor-general of Canada from 1819 to 1828. It is intended to form part of a future national portrait gallery.

A group of pictures presented by Mrs H. A. Bulwer of Vancouver has filled one of the larger gaps in the Gallery's representation of English painting of the early nineteenth century, especially the Norwich School. These include landscapes by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) and his son Miles Cotman (1810-1858) and portraits of members of the Bulwer family by Joseph Clover (1779-1853) and Frederick Sandys (1832-1904), the latter a friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

American colonial painting was naturally dependent upon the English school. The first example to enter the National Gallery of Canada was The Tannatt Family, painted about 1775 by Henry Benbridge (1743-1811/2). Born in Philadelphia, Benbridge visited Italy in 1764 and is said to have been a pupil of Mengs and Pompeo Battoni, though the proportions of his figures and their caricatured faces indicate some contact with Thomas Patch. After 1771 he worked in Charleston, South Carolina. During the American Revolution he is said to have been a prisoner of the British. The people in this picture were mostly of the opposite camp, being merchants and colonial officials of Savannah, Georgia. The portrait was brought to Quebec by one of the ladies in the picture, who married Thomson, the Commissary General of Canada; it was given to the Gallery in 1960 by a descendant, Mr Jasper Nicolls of Ottawa. An outdoor conversation piece in the English manner, it is full of interesting details of costume, landscape, and architecture.

From the American school of the early nineteenth century come two other works, an anonymous portrait of 1823, The Perras Children, painted in St Louis and attributed to François-Marie Guyol de Guiran; and a large Still Life attributed to Severin Roesen (c. 1871), a German-born painter active in New York and Pennsylvania.

To the foregoing have been added several examples of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American painting. Before the purchase of Mallard Drake Hanging (14) by William Harnett (1848-1892) the Gallery had nothing from this period when American painting most greatly influenced Canada. This picture, signed and dated Munich 1883, is a fine and typical work by the Irish-born Philadelphia painter whose style was formed by contact with the Dutch and German schools. It illustrates the extraordinary technique he developed in the painting of still life in a trompe-l'oeil manner. Of the same period but by a very different artist comes the small Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (1847-1919), the New York recluse who painted in a dark, poetic style.

From the early twentieth century comes the well known portrait by Robert Henri (1865-1929) of his friend and fellow artist George Luks. (15) It was painted in 1904, when the New York group known as The Eight were rebelling against borrowed Europeanisms and beginning their own native movement. Prior to the purchase of this picture in 1961 The Eight (nicknamed the Ashcan School) were represented in the Gallery only by the work of their two Canadian-born and least typical members, Maurice Prendergast and Ernest Lawson.

Turning back to Europe, the Gallery has acquired its first example of classicist painting in France. Lacking funds to buy works by David and Ingres, it has filled the gap very modestly by a portrait of a Young Woman by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845), the 'little master of the Revolution'. This exquisite small picture illustrates the remarkable luminosity of his style, which he achieved partly through experiments with varnishes.

The collection of British painting, the one modern field outside the Canadian in which acquisitions have been made consistently by purchase and gift since 1913, has been enhanced by the addition of works of various contemporary painters including William Crozier (Fall, a gift from the Contemporary Arts Society, London). Edward Middleditch (Cactus Flowers, another gift from the C. A. S., and Reflections, Evening, a purchase), and William Townsend (Lake Kalamalka) among others. (16)

The representation of European modern sculpture, a relatively new field of collecting for the National Gallery, has had two additions, in the form of the work of two of the great modern sculptors. The Bust of Anatole France by Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), famous for his reliefs at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris and the great Vierge d'Alsace, is a well known bronze of 1919. Also purchased was a bronze Horse by the contemporary Italian sculptor Marino Marini.

Their Excellencies The Governor-General and Madame Vanier have made the generous gift of three fragments from Sir Jacob Epstein's first great commission, the 'Strand statues' on the outside of the British Medical Building in the Strand, London. The projecting parts of the figures were removed after the building had been taken over by the Rhodesian government, presumably because the weather had eroded them, and these fragments were acquired by General Vanier when he was at Canada House, London, in the thirties. They have been installed at Government House, Ottawa, for the duration of Their Excellencies' régime.

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