Art at the Canadian National Exhibition 1905-1938Home
| Français | Introduction
by Sybille Pantazzi
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Under the auspices of the Toronto Camera Club, photographs were
shown at the C. N. E. after 1919, when the First International
Exhibition of Photographs took place. A separate catalogue was
issued that year, with symbols indicating the process used for each
work. The following year the photographs were included in a
catalogue together with the Graphic and Applied Arts. From 1921,
the illustrated catalogue of the annual (Toronto) Salon of
Photography was incorporated in the C. N. E. (D. F. A.) catalogues.
Although no longer entitled "international," the Salon
of Photography, in 1925 for example, exhibited 424 photographs from
twenty-five countries. By 1938 the number of native and foreign
entries had risen to 1,206, and the Royal Photographic Society of
Great Britain took part in the exhibition. The type of photographs
was conventional but this aspect of the C. N. E. was evidently very
popular. M. O. Hammond, the Secretary, in the foreword to the
photography section of the 1938 C. N. E. (D. F. A.) catalogue, wrote
that "some 250,000 persons...each year see this outstanding
presentation of internationally famous pictorialists" (p. 138).
The popularity and success of the C. N. E. as a whole is undeniable.
For an exhibition which usually lasted fourteen days (the last week
of August and the first week in September), to at tract 1,573,000
visitors, as in 1926 for example, (33) at a time when the population of
Toronto was 556,691 and that of Ontario about 3,000,000, is
impressive. Obviously the C. N. E. also attracted Canadians from other
provinces as well as Americans and other visitors from abroad.
Until the official statistics on the attendance at the art
galleries become available, it will not be possible to determine
what proportion of these crowds saw the art exhibitions. A few
scattered figures found in unofficial sources will have to serve in
the meantime. R. F. Gagen, in his Ontario Art Chronicle (pp.
92, 93) writes that the attendance for the period 1907-1917 was
"nearly one million," an average of about 83,000 a year.
In the O. S. A President's Report for 1925 the figure of 56,000
is given for the attendance to the art exhibitions in 1924. The
same source records that in 1927, 110,000 paid admissions were
registered at the Fine Art Gallery, exclusive of the "many
thousands who thronged the Graphic Art Gallery" (President's
Report, 1928). Hammond, in Saturday Night (August 1927),
wrote that the attendance at the Fine Art Gallery was
"upwards of 50,000 annually," a figure which is close to
that already quoted from the 1925 O. S. A. Report. Finally, the
1930 O. S. A. Report mentions that the general attendance at
the C. N. E. dropped in 1929, but that the number of visitors to the
art galleries increased in proportion to the general admissions.
Unfortunately, these general figures do not give any indication of
the relative popularity of the art exhibition held in any given
year between 1905 and 1938, nor can one deduce from them if the
crowds were more interested in seeing Canadian or foreign art.
Nevertheless they do show that the art exhibitions were well
attended (see fig. 4) and consequently that the role they played in
the diffusion of art was not negligible.
Because another important index to the reaction of the public - the
figures of the sales of foreign art - is not accessible, any
assessment of the influence of the C. N. E. art exhibitions on
Canadian collectors cannot be attempted at present. The only figure
I have found is in the press where, in 1916, $ 12,000 is quoted as
the amount of the annual sales of pictures (both Canadian and
foreign, presumably). (34)
In 1899, the same year the O. S. A. published the pamphlet on the Reasons
for a New Art Gallery at the Industrial Exhibition, the
Society also issued a pamphlet entitled On the Need for an Art
Museum in Toronto and Some Suggestions on how it might be founded.
Already in 1903 the President's Report stated that pictures
to the value of $ 500 had been purchased by the Industrial Exhibition
Association, (35) but it was not until 1911 - the year the Grange was
bequeathed to the Art Museum of Toronto - that works purchased annually at the exhibition began to be placed on long-term loan at
the Art Museum, where they were to be known as the C. N. E. Loan
Collection. (36) The founding of this collection was an important step
towards the establishment of an art museum, the other goal which the
O. S. A. was to pursue with admirable tenacity.
A similar procedure had been inaugurated in Venice in 1897, the year
of the second Biennale. Works bought or given from that and
subsequent Biennales form the collection of the Museo d' Arte
Moderna (now in the Palazzo Pesaro) which was opened to the public
When, in November 1922, the Art Gallery of Toronto exhibited the
acquisitions made by the C. N. E. during the preceding ten years, the
critic of The Toronto Daily Star enthusiastically subtitled
his article "Torontonians should take pride in collection made
by the C. N. E ..." "Many of the finest painters in England
and in France...are here represented," he wrote, and he
singled out for special praise "a vivid Venetian gondola"
(by Lucien Simon, fig. 14) and Saint Cecilia in the Catacombs (by
Cavé, fig. 12). (37)
From 1938 the catalogue of the C. N. E. contained a note stating that
"pictures which have been purchased from year to year from the
C. N. E. exhibitions are also part of the exhibition now hanging at
the Art Gallery of Toronto."
Between 1911 and 1952 the C. N. E. deposited at the Art Gallery of
Toronto a total of 334 works in all media. Prints were in the
majority (201 foreign and Canadian); sculptures very much in the
minority (only 4 works in all). Of the total of 334 works, 223 were
foreign and 111 Canadian, which reflects the proportion (one-third
Canadian, two-thirds foreign) of native to foreign art in the
exhibitions themselves. In 1965 the long-term loan was generously
converted into an outright gift, and the former C. N. E. Loan Collection was incorporated into the permanent collection of the Art
Gallery of Ontario. Nine of them are reproduced here (figs. 9, 10,
12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 21, 22). (38) The National Gallery of Canada also
purchased pictures from the C. N. E. exhibitions on two occasions, in
1912 and again in 1915, seven paintings in all. (39) Four French
pictures were lent by The National Gallery to the 1918 exhibition (Loiseau,
d'Espagnat, Maufra, and Moret).
From 1939 to 1941 only Canadian art was shown at the C. N. E., and
from 1942 to 1946 no art exhibitions were held. The year 1938 was
therefore a climactic one, as the post-war exhibitions at the C. N.
made no attempt to follow the new trend of the Venice Biennale and
Pittsburgh International in becoming the showcases of
international avant-garde art.
By the 1930s the focus of art activities in Toronto had
shifted to the Art Gallery of Toronto (which had added two further
galleries in 1935) where loan exhibitions were held all through
the year - except during the summer months when the permanent
collection was hung, including part of the C. N. E. Loan Collection.
Another reason for the decline of the importance of the C. N. E. art
exhibitions after the Second World War was undoubtedly the change in
size and character of the population of Toronto. After 1947, when
the C. N. E. opened its first post-war exhibition, it was catering
to a different public which was more attracted by the midway than
the Art Galleries. (40)
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