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

Bulletin 22, 1973

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Foreign Art at the Canadian National Exhibition 1905-1938

by Sybille Pantazzi

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

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 in 1902.

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. E. 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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