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

Bulletin 22, 1973

Annual Index
Author & Subject

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Foreign Art at the Canadian National Exhibition 1905-1938

by Sybille Pantazzi

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11

By 1905, the defects of this gallery had become only too obvious. Apart from the fact that it was built with inflammable materials (as pointed out by the O. S. A. at the time), it had "grave faults in lighting, ventilation, etc.," was small and, having only one entrance, was not planned to accommodate or encourage the circulation of vast crowds. In fact complete deadlocks often occurred, and the doors of the gallery had to be temporarily closed. (7)

Plans for a second and larger gallery of brick and other "fire-proof" materials were drawn up by a Select Commit tee of the O. S. A. (R. F. Gagen, F. S. Challener, and F. M. Bell-Smith), and the construction was entrusted to the architect of the C. N. E. Association. George W.Gouinlock. (8) Its cost was $ 42,000. (9) The influence of the Chicago World's Fair is still visible in the more monumental style of the new gallery: each pavilion was again fronted by a classical portico, higher than before, and once again supported by four unfluted Ionic columns. The symmetrical U-shaped plan, consisting of two pavilions linked by an exhibition gallery, ensured that "the crowd would be able to pass continuously through." The west porch was used as the entrance, and the east porch was used as the exit. The building was provided with sky-lights (Beaux-Arts versions of factory monitors) and contained five galleries - two in each pavilion and one large central one. (10) The aim and aspirations of the Gallery of 1905 were symbolically proclaimed in the traditional manner by inscribing around the building (on tablets placed under the entablature) the names of thirty-six foreign artists ranging from Giotto to Gérome (fig. 4).

Exhibitions of works by Canadian artists, both professional and amateur, had been held at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition ever since its incorporation in 1879, but the erection in 1905 of an adequate, "fire-proof" gallery and the funds provided by the C. N. E. Association rendered possible, for the first time, the exhibition on an important scale of foreign art in Toronto. The proportion of one-third Canadian to two-thirds foreign (11) seems to have been maintained from about 1907 (except in 1920 and 1930, when Canadian art only was shown).

The gallery of 1902 was later used for the exhibition of Applied and Graphic Arts and was referred to by both these names (fig. 5), whereas the gallery of 1905 was known as the Fine Art Building or, simply, the Art Gallery. By 1914, the Annual Report of the O. S. A. stated that the enlargement of the gallery of 1905 was a pressing necessity; but its original size remained unaltered until its demolition in 1973. (12) A detailed description has been given of the two art galleries at the C. N. E. and, in particular, of the one built in 1905 in order to emphasize that, owing to the availability of two buildings, the scope and importance of the international exhibitions held at the C. N. E. were, for twenty years (1906-1926), on a larger scale than those held at the Art Museum of Toronto. The latter was incorporated in 1900 but did not take possession of The Grange until 1912, so that, although three new galleries were added in 1918, it was not able to fulfill its role adequately until after 1926 when its new building - comprising six additional galleries - was inaugurated. (13)

An idea of how the C. N. E. Exhibition Committees dealt with the increasing size of the exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s, and a description of the installation in the Fine Art Building during those decades, can be gleaned from the comments of the local press. In August 1927, M. O. Hammond considered it attractive but out-of-date as well as inadequate. He mentions that the Gallery had been extended at the rear in order to hang etchings and small pictures. (14) Ten years later, Pearl McCarthy noted that the prints, which had been moved over to the Graphic Arts Building, "look much better than they did in the alcoves of the annex to the main gallery." (15) In 1935 the same critic described the improved installation in the Art Gallery as follows: "the walls have been hung with oyster shade burlap, and new material has been used for the light screens under the roof windows. The whole effect is one of softly diffused, yet adequate brightness, which is most agreeable." (16)

The management of the art exhibitions was shared by the C. N. E. Association and the Ontario Society of Artists. The influence of the O. S. A. (founded in 1872) was preponderant even after 1911, when the Presidents of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and of the Canadian Art Club were added to the Hanging Committee (fig. 6) which consisted of three members of the first-named society. (17) It was maintained because the artist, Robert F. Gagen, Secretary of the O. S. A. since 1889, was appointed Director of the Fine Art Exhibitions in 1904, and Secretary of the Commission in 1912. He occupied both these posts until his death in 1926. In 1920, F .S. Haines, the painter and etcher, was appointed secretary of the Department of Graphic Art and in 1924, commissioner. He ably and energetically held this key post until 1951, and was responsible for many of the exhibitions, in particular those of Graphic Art held in the late 1920S and 1930s. In 1927, for example, he went abroad to select pictures.

The aims of the artists and the aims of the C. N. E. Association did not always coincide. The artists' main objective was art education and cultivation of the public; the C. N. E. Association's main objective was the exhibition of "sensational" works which would at tract crowds and increase the attendance and receipts. The influence of the C. N. E. Association Manager was an important one, and it was fortunate that Dr J. O. Orr, the manager from 1903 to 1917, encouraged his directors to make large appropriations to import works from abroad and to make grants for purchases. (18) The foreign representatives or agents for the collection of British and foreign art were also chosen by the C. N. E. Association and acted on suggestions received from the Commission.

The first of these agents was Alfred George Temple, F. S. A. (1848 - c. 1927), Director of the Guildhall Art Gallery in London. He was succeeded in 1912 by E. Rimbault Dibdin (1853-1941), curator of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, who remained the European representative until 1933-1934. In 1935 Dibdin was replaced by Charles Robert Chisman (active 1911-1948), another Englishman, founder and governing director of the Art Exhibitions Bureau, of which Dibdin had been consulting director. Chisman, who was a pioneer of the principle of circulating exhibitions, continued as European representative until the early 1940s.

From the beginning, the policy of the O. S. A. was to Show "the best modern pictures" at the C. N. E., as these exhibitions provided a needed opportunity to compare current Canadian art with that produced elsewhere. (19) The purpose was also to educate the taste of the general public, to enlarge the horizon of local artists, and to inspire potential artists. Even before the second gallery was built, several large historical and religious pictures by living European artists were borrowed from Sir George Drummond in Montreal: Benjamin Constant's Moorish Conqueror Surveying the Spoils of a Christian City, Karl Von Piloty's The Last Moments of the Girondists, and Gabriel Max's The Raising of Jairus' Daughter. (20) All three pictures were illustrated in the catalogue. (Both Constant and Von piloty were among the artists represented in the recent Salon imaginaire [Berlin, 1968]. (21) In the same year, 1904, the replica of Benjamin West's The Death of Wolfe from the Royal Collection was also included in the exhibition.

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