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

Annual Bulletin 7, 1983-1984

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by Joseph Martin

Article en français

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In November 1983, plans and models for the National Gallery's new building were unveiled; construction began with a brilliant display of fireworks above the Sussex Drive site. This celebration followed months of hard work by staff at the Gallery and at the Canada Museums Construction Corporation (CMCC) and by the architects from the firms of Moshe Safdie of Montreal and The Parkin Partnership of Toronto. We shared our excitement about the designs with the public by organizing an exhibition of the models, plans, and drawings, and also by hosting lectures by CMCC chairman, Jean Sutherland Boggs, and design architect Moshe Safdie.

Planning the new building and meeting present responsibilities pressed us to balance future and present demands. Responses to the design proposals were solicited from people both inside and outside the Gallery; in particular, staff sought solutions to problems concerning the display and storage of the collections, and the natural and artificial lighting schemes. The revision and addition of collections records through the computerized Canadian Heritage Information Network (designed to provide detailed information on the national collections to the Canadian public), and a physical inventory of the National Gallery's holdings, were identified as priorities to be completed before the move into the new building. Simultaneously, the extensive loans and public programmes required the expertise and support of many of those divisions in the Gallery which were also involved in activities with the new building, particularly curatorial, restoration and conservation, and technical services. Throughout the year, curators, conservators, librarians, educators, and exhibition organizers continued to share freely their knowledge and time with the public and with other institutions. These services included responses to letters and queries from galleries, museums, and individuals, curatorial and conservation examination of works of art, provision of teaching materials for schools, and other professional contacts with the museum community and the public in Canada and abroad. Conservators and curators drafted a new conservation policy and procedures document, and while a qualified moratorium was imposed on purchases, curators revised the Gallery's policy and procedures governing its collections.

Despite the moratorium, the collections continued to expand. Two oil paintings, The Coureur de Bois and The Art Lover by the Impressionist Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, and Jack Bush's Three Greens and Black were outstanding among Canadian purchases. A work by Canadian painter and mixed-media artist John Massey, Body and Soul - A Cinematic Stasis, and a ceramic sculpture by Jamelie Hassan were acquired for the Modern and Contemporary collections. Also noteworthy were important European drawings by Samuel Palmer and Puvis de Chavannes, a superb etching, The Table, by Picasso, and a portrait of Stéphane Natanson by Félix Vallotton.

Prominent among the many donations were Jean Arp's bronze Torso of Kore from Mr G. J. Rosengarten of Montreal, The Temptation of St Anthony, attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, donated by the late Mrs Jeanne tynch-Staunton of Lavaltrie, Quebec, and Emily Carr's Four Children in a Breton Cottage, one of four works donated to the Gallery by Dr Max Stern of Montreal. In honour of its twenty-fifth anniversary, the Friends of the National Gallery donated twenty Cape Dorset prints commemorative, in turn, of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Cape Dorset studio.

The Gallery's active loans programme continued to attract national and international attention to the high quality of its collections. We played a major part in celebrating the opening of the new Vancouver Art Gallery with the loan of seventeen Canadian and twenty-seven European masterpieces. Other notable loans were to the National Museum of Man for the exhibition The Covenant Chain: Indian Ceremonial and Trade Silver, to James Kerr-Lawson: A Canadian Abroad, organized by the Art Gallery of Windsor, and to the Art Gallery of Ontario's Murray Favro Retrospective. Six major works, including Tom Thomson's Northern River, Lawren Harris's Maligne Lake, Jasper Park, and A. Y.: Jackson's Terre Sauvage were loaned to the Art Gallery of Ontario's Mystic North exhibition. The Gallery also lent works to exhibitions in western Europe and Japan.

An exceptionally varied and interesting programme of eighteen exhibitions was offered to Gallery visitors. Cultural Engineering, an exhibition spanning a decade of work by video artist Tom Sherman, explored the effects of the media on public and private life. Walker Evans: The Phyllis Lambert Gift celebrated a major donation, which gave the Gallery the world's most important collection of works by the outstanding American photographer Walker Evans. The donation over the next few years of an important collection of 170 works was marked by The Magic Worlds of M. C. Escher. The exhibition featured prints from the Dutch artist's entire career, ranging from realistic landscapes to the invented universes he designed until his death in 1972. Giuseppe Penone presented recent works by this contemporary Italian sculptor that explore the mysterious, invisible processes of change in the natural world. "We enjoyed the pictures that we saw," a children's exhibition capturing the child's reaction to a Gallery visit, was organized by the Friends of the National Gallery and the Gallery's Education Services to celebrate the Friends' twenty-fifth anniversary.

Following the renovation of the sixth-floor Prints, Drawings and Photographs galleries in the Lorne Building, a new series of rotating installations from the permanent collections was launched in anticipation of the kind of programme the new building could accommodate. The first of these, Animals, featured beasts as subjects of artistic representation through six centuries. In addition, a video room was opened; it offers regular video viewing from the Gallery's permanent collection.

The following exhibitions borrowed from other institutions further enriched the Gallery's programme: Maurice Cullen (Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston); Murray Favro (Art Gallery of Ontario ); L'art de l'architecte: Three Centuries of Architectural Drawing in Quebec City (Université Laval and the Musée du Québec); Sidney Grossman (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston); and Ladders to Heaven: Our Judeo-Christian Heritage (Royal Ontario Museum).

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