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

Bulletin 22, 1973

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Click figure 19 here for an enlarged image

Foreign Art at the Canadian National Exhibition 1905-1938

By Sybille Pantazzi

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

Some Belgian artists were also hung with the French in 1916: among them, Théodore van Rysselberghe, Isidore Opsomer, Leon de Smet, and Edgar Tytgat. Another group of Belgians who exhibited at the C. N. E. in 1927 contains no known names. Their works were lent by the Musée du Luxembourg.

The Americans participated in nine exhibitions from 1911 to 1933. In the C. N. E. catalogue for 1913 it was stated with some pride that the C. N. E. was first to introduce contemporary American painting to the Canadian public. This was in 1911 when, as in the following year, the selection was made by Arthur Heming. From the first group, only three artists stand out: Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, and Charles Hawthorne. The first two, who continued to show in succeeding years, were eventually joined by George Bellows, Emil Carlsen, George Luks, and Frieseke, to name the most prominent. In 1929 it was the turn o the National Society of Mural Painters to exhibit the sketches of its members. The distinguished exhibition of American book-illustrations held in 1932 (discusses in more detail below with the graphic art) was accompanied by paintings lent by the Grand Centre and Milch Galleries of New York. In 1933 painting by John Sloan and William Glackens of the Ashca School were among the American works borrowed from the thirteenth Pittsburgh International.

Viewed as a whole, the American contribution to the C. N. E. is disappointing. In spite of their proximity and the fact that many Canadian artists both studied and worked in the United States, the American compared to the British, took a second place. The was no attempt to show any outstanding nineteenth-century American works. The situation probably reflects the fact that during this period Canada's strongest cultural ties were with Great Britain, and indicates that the C. N. E. Art Commissioners did not include any particular champion or connoisseur of American art. 

The appointment of E. R. Dibdin as European representative, coincided with the decision of the C. N. E. cast its international net more widely. Artists from the following countries were invited to participate in the C. N. E. exhibitions: Germany (1913), Belgium (1915, 1916, 1927), Italy (1917 and 1926), Spain (1922 and 1928), Sweden (1923), Russia (1925), and Denmark (1929).

The first of these exhibitions selected by Dibdin was the German one in 1913. It included forty-five paintings "carefully chosen to illustrate the characteristics of leading artists in the various centres of the Empire." Apart from William Trübner (Lady Macbeth) and Franz von Stuck (Dance in the Spring), the names of the other painters do not seem to have attained international recognition. The seven works illustrated in the catalogue include an academic Pietà by Otto H. Engle, a picnic, a beer-parlour scelle with a jovial customer in eighteenth-century costume, a pastoral landscape, views of Dresden and of a port, and a sentimental-academic Nymph of the Spring. Not a very inspiring début but not surprising in view of Dibdin's conservative bias, which he took the opportunity of expressing in the section, "Notes on the Pictures," included in the catalogue. His aim, he wrote, was to "illustrate the vital art of today" and "secure pictures by men Who are in the van of the art movement of the twentieth-century" but he adds, "I have avoided those eccentrics Who, by adroit advertisement, have somehow got themselves talked about as path-makers to the art of the future: Post-Impressionists, Cubists, Futurists, and the like; because I have failed, after much honest effort, to find in their pictures any valid reason for their existence, and I do not believe they can lead the way to anything but chaos." (27) This candid statement prepares us for the absence from the foreign selections chosen by him for the C. N. E. of most of the artists who have shaped contemporary art.

In 1917, the Italian pictures shown at the C. N. E. were selected from those sent by the Italian government to the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in 1915. It was an official selection and consequently dull. In fact it is difficult to single out the names of any Italian painters known today with the exception of Vittore Grubicy de Dragon (who was included in the Symbolist exhibition held in Turin and Toronto in 1969) and of plinio Nomellini (a Divisionist, whose centenary in 1966 was marked by an exhibition held in Livorno, his native city). The illustrations in the catalogue reproduce some typical genre scenes of harvesters or strolling players, two views of Rome (by Luigi Coromaldi and Pio Joris) and one of Venice (by Beppe Ciardi). However it was from this exhibition that the C. N. E. Association purchased Luigi Nono's Beloved Name (Caro Nome) (fig. 19). Nono (1860-1918) belonged to a group of painters dedicated to "social realism"; but this particular picture is more conspicuous for a sentimental appeal which, for Italians, would have been reinforced by the allusion in the title to the aria from Verdi's Rigoletto.

In 1926, when a further group of Italian paintings was shown, the choice was also uneven, but it did include works by Alberto Magnelli and Pelizza da Volpedo. (The former was one of the earliest abstract painters, an exhibition of whose works from 1914 to 1968, was circulated in Italy and France in 1970; the latter, a Divisionist, was included in the 1969 Turin-Toronto Symbolist exhibition.) The "luscious" and popular Antonio Mancini, as well as Armando Spadini and Alberto Tosi, were also represented.

Spanish works were shown on two occasions, in 1922 and 1928. The first group included paintings and sculpture by seventeen artists, Sorolla y Bastida, the "bravura" portrait-painter, being the best-known among the artists. (28) The press singled out for favourable comment Cardona's Carmen and R. Matena's Beethoven. In 1928 Ignacio Zuloaga's Castilian Shepherd was reproduced as the frontispiece of the catalogue; among four other paintings illustrated is one by Valentin de Zubiaurre, one of the two Basque brothers also shown at the Panama Pacific Exposition. The powerful, sombre, and realistic Spanish style is well represented and it is interesting to note that secular subjects outnumber the religious ones; among the latter, Monks by Daniel Vasquez Diaz, a pale version of a Zurbaran-type subject, is one of the works illustrated in the catalogue.

In 1923 and 1929, respectively, Swedish paintings and Danish art were exhibited at the C. N. E. The affinity between Scandinavian and Canadian landscape, and the impact on the Group of Seven of the Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art, held in Buffalo in 1913, is well-known. Interestingly enough, works by five of the Swedish artists, and four of the Danish represented in Buffalo, were also shown at the C. N. E. in the 1920s. The Swedish painters were Anna Boberg, Prince Eugen, Gustav Adolf Fjaestad, Bruno Liljefors, and Anders Zorn; the Danish included Knud Kyhn, Julius Paulsen, Sigurd Swane, and Fritz Syberg. Discussing the Swedish contribution to the Panama Pacific Exposition, Christian Brinton writes perceptively about the "clear colour, sharply silhouetted forms and mighty rhythms of seemingly illimitable stretches of mountain and sky." He finds their directness of vision as rare as it is stimulating and adds that "the art of Sweden derives its strength from the silent, persistent community between nature and man. The elements are few but they are all-sufficient." (29) These words could also be applied to certain works by members of the Group of Seven.

Next Page | Russian contemporary artists

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

Top of this page

Home | Français | Introduction | History
Annual Index | Author & Subject | Credits | Contact

This digital collection was produced under contract to Canada's Digital Collections program, Industry Canada.

"Digital Collections Program, Copyright © National Gallery of Canada 2001"