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The National Gallery of Canada
Bulletin and Annual Bulletin
A Brief History

by Jo Beglo

Article en français

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In May 1963, during Charles Comfort's tenure as Director of the National Gallery of Canada, the Gallery inaugurated a new publication: the National Gallery of Canada Bulletin. The Director's foreword to the first issue summarized the Gallery's intentions for the new Bulletin. Its primary aim was to provide a scholarly venue for articles dealing with works of art in the National Gallery's collections, as well as articles on "topics in the field of the fine arts which are of special aesthetic and historical importance to us in Canada." It was intended to appeal "not only to interested scholars and historians but to the growing public which enjoys and appreciates the arts." (1) In light of this mandate, each issue was to contain three or four scholarly illustrated articles concerned chiefly, although not exclusively, with Canadian art. (2)

By July 1963 the Bulletin had come to the attention of the newly appointed Secretary of State, the Honourable J. W. Pickersgill, who requested information about publishing costs. The Gallery responded with the accounts, adding an elaboration of the raison
d'être for the new publication, prepared by William S. A. Dale, Assistant Director:

The need for such a periodical has been felt for some years, as is evidenced by the number of enquiries for more detailed information on the Gallery's collections received from across Canada, the United States, Great Britain and European countries. Until now, the only sources of this material have been the Annual Reports and the catalogues of the permanent collection, which by their nature require a severely condensed presentation. The Bulletin will not only provide space for a fuller treatment of available information, but will also stimulate further research. (3)

The Gallery's publications roster at that time consisted mainly of the Annual Report, the permanent collection catalogue, and catalogues of National Gallery of Canada exhibitions. In addition the staff contributed to foreign publications, and to Canadian periodicals such as Canadian Art and Vie des arts. Thus the National Gallery of Canada Bulletin would add a new dimension to the publishing program. Devoted to art historical research, and focused on the National Gallery's collections, the new Bulletin was inaugurated with a clear vision for its future direction.

Publishing Mandate

In the first issue, the Bulletin published three articles by members of the National Gallery's professional staff, as a tribute to their work, and as a means of bringing the national collection to public attention. (4) R. H. Hubbard, Chief Curator, provided a supplement to the catalogues of the National Gallery's permanent collections, published in 1957 and 1959, by reviewing more than twenty recent accessions of European and American painting and sculpture. (5) Jean-René Ostiguy, Chief, Exhibition and Extension Services, contributed a critical analysis of the theories of Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-1960) in relation to his abstract work, with reference to four canvases in the National Gallery's collection. And J. Russell Harper, Curator of Canadian Art, surveyed pre-Confederation painting in Ontario through a review of the Upper Canada Provincial Exhibitions from 1846 to 1867.

The second issue (I:2, December 1963) published contributions to the history of art in Canada which looked beyond the National Gallery's collections. Nathan Stolow, Chief of the Conservation and Scientific Research Division, contributed the first of several articles documenting conservation case histories and methods of treatment. Jean-Paul Morisset, Liaison Officer, Eastern Canada, reviewed the efforts of scholars to write the history of art in French Canada prior to Confederation. And R. F. Wodehouse, Curator of War Art, published an article on David Milne (1882-1953) as a war artist, accompanied by a checklist of 107 works which formed part of the Canadian War Memorials Collection, transferred in 1920 from the Canadian War Records Office to the National Gallery of Canada.

These six articles were publishing landmarks in 1963, when few Canadian museums were publishing
scholarly bulletins, and even fewer Canadian periodicals were devoting space to scholarly articles on Canadian art history. (6) A new venture in Canada, the Bulletin was experimental in a Canadian context; nevertheless, it was based on well established publishing models from the Metropolitan Museum (New York), the Cleveland Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). (7) Following these models, it was expected, from the beginning, that the Bulletin would include contributions not only from National Gallery staff, but also from other scholars in Canada and abroad. (8)

These plans materialized in the third issue (II:1, 1964), which included a study by Jean Sutherland Boggs, then Curator at the Art Gallery of Toronto, who contributed an analysis of the National Gallery's pastel Danseuses à la barre by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), dating it among the artist's late works. By the fourth issue (II:2, 1964), an article by Kathleen Fenwick, the National Gallery's Curator of Prints and Drawings, together with contributions from A. E. Popham and Marcel Röthlisberger, ensured the Bulletin a place among longstanding models.

The continuing interest of European and American art historians in publishing in the Bulletin reflected the importance of the Gallery's collections and reinforced the need for more published information about them. Moreover, the Bulletin generated interest not only in the National Gallery's collections, but also in Canadian museums generally, as indicated by a letter from the editor of Museum News, the journal of the American Association of Museums, requesting permission to reprint Kathleen Fenwick's article on the Gallery's collection of drawings:

I have been concerned for some time that our journal...has had very few articles about Canadian museums, their history and growth...I felt that our first step in remedying the situation would be to reprint the Kathleen M. Fenwick...It should make a very nice spread in the journal. In addition...I would also like to ask if you would consider doing a longer feature for us on Canadian museums, the oldest, the number now in existence, the future, how Canadian museums are supported financially, attendance figures, etc. We are long overdue on such a story. (9)

Through the years the contents of the Bulletin included an ambitious roster of Canadian and foreign subjects, typically grouped into broadly thematic issues. In scope, the topics encompass a wide range of the visual arts: painting, sculpture, graphic arts, and photography. Between 1969 and 1976, the contents of several issues were arranged as monographs, each dealing with a single artist or subject. In addition, the Bulletin published illustrations of new acquisitions, as well as other pertinent information, such as lists of National Gallery trustees and professional staff, and addenda and corrigenda to two National Gallery exhibition catalogues: A Pageant of Canada (1967) and Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art (1967).

From the outset, articles in the Bulletin were published in either French or English, according to the language of the author, with summaries in the other official language. The practice of providing bilingual captions to the illustrations began with the double issue of 1967 (number 9-10). From 1977, when the Bulletin became an annual publication, articles and captions were fully bilingual, published in parallel French and English texts.

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