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

Annual Bulletin 3, 1979-1980

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by Hsio-Yen Shih

Article en français

Page  2  

My second annual review as Director described the context in which the National Gallery of Canada functions as part of a federal departmental corporation. Understanding Canada's governmental structure became especially important in the fiscal year 1979-80 when two national elections were held, on 22 May 1979 and 18 February 1980. The cultural agencies have, therefore, had to report to two new Secretaries of State in a single year of operations. This third annual review describes a year of uncertainty, although the Gallery itself was united in its commitment to planning centenary celebrations worthy of the institutions distinguished history.

We began this fiscal year with a twenty-eight per cent cut in the operations budget, added to the more than two per cent cut suffered in the previous fiscal year. Coupled with the reduction in funds were a three per cent loss in authorized person-years and a moratorium on hiring new personnel that extended over nine months. At the end of 1979, the Gallery was further informed that its acquisitions budget would be reduced by two thirds in the fiscal year 1980-81, from $1.5 million to $.5 million.

The last announcement had perhaps the most devastating effect on the Gallery's morale. Whereas the diminution of budget and personnel had been shared throughout the federal government, the decision to slash the funds for works of art needed to increase and improve the national collections struck directly at the Gallery alone. Since the $1.5 million acquisitions budget had remained static for eight years - during which period its buying power had been steadily eroded by inflation, the decline in the Canadian dollar, and the drastic rise in prices for all categories of art - the loss of $1 million was a shock of major significance.

In the Board of Trustees Annual Report of 1934-35, the Gallery's Trustees informed the Government of Canada that

In every annual report made by the Trustees since 1921, opportunity has been taken to stress the entirely out-grown, inconvenient and positively dangerous condition of the present temporary premises occupied by the National Gallery...It cannot be too often remarked that Canada lags behind all the other Dominions in this matter. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have all recognized the importance of the arts in the country by building national institutions for their housing, teaching and study. Canada, with the longest history, the greatest wealth and an indigenous art of the greatest importance has done nothing in this respect.
Almost fifty years later, the Trustees' words are applicable not only to the Gallery's physical accommodations, but also to its ability to add to the nation's cultural heritage in the visual arts. In fact, comparison with other countries is embarrassing. In Australia, the National Gallery at Canberra has an annual acquisitions budget of $3.7 million (expressed in Canadian dollars), and the National Gallery of Victoria more than $4 million; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has more than $5.8 million annually for the purchase of works of art; and the National Gallery in London, U.K., is granted $7.2 million. Even the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburg surpasses the National Gallery of Canada with $1.9 million for its annual acquisitions fund.

What the gallery was able to achieve with $1.5 million in 1979-80 is fully reported in the acquisitions list published in this Annual Bulletin. Of especial note is the Portrait of a Knight, c. 1670 by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). This Spanish painting was formerly in the Sir William van Horne Collection; its repatriation to the Canadian national collections was made possible with the help of a grant from the Cultural Properties Export-Import Review Board. In addition, gifts of works of art were gratefully accepted from Mrs Mary Lucretia Beatie, the Estate of Maude Brown, Dr and Mrs Charles Comfort, Mrs Doris Bent Dickson, Mme Marie-Paule LaBrèque, Mrs Blanche Loeb, Ms Dorothy S. Phillips and Mr Christopher Varley.

Late in 1979 the Gallery was offered its first centennial gift: the magnificent Henry Birks Collection of Canadian Silver. The gift of some six thousand pieces, which comprises mainly Canadian silver, but also related American, Australian, English, and French silver, celebrates the one-hundredth anniversary of Birks & Co. in 1979, as well as the Gallery's centenary in 1980. Through this gift to the Nation and with the Gallery's custodianship, the Birks family has made an important part of the Canadian heritage available to all.

Equally gratifying was the National Gallery Association's gift of a concert grand piano. Contributions toward the purchase were gratefully received from many other interested people, as well as from the members of the Association.

Imperial Oil Ltd., which also celebrates its one-hundredth year in 1980, sponsored the Gallery's commemorative exhibition, To Found a National Gallery: The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts 1880-1913. The exhibition was opened on 6 March 1980 by the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau in his first public event after returning to office as Prime Minister. More than three thousand visitors attended the Gallery that evening.

Despite restrictions on the number and variety of programmes demanded by the budget cuts of this fiscal year, the Gallery's attendance continued to show a steady increase: from 265,597 in 1976-77 to 287,104 in 1979-80. During the two days of Open House, 8 and 9 March 1980, the Lorne Building was filled to capacity with 4,660 visitors on the first clay and 5,348 on the second. Indeed, an attendance of about five thousand visitors a clay represents the limit that the building can entertain without serious difficulties for its environmental controls.

The struggle to make the Lome Building - the Gallery's present home - both safe for works of art and more attractive to visitors continued. New machinery was provided for the environmental control plant. The garage area was waterproofed again. The elevators were changed to more modem self-service types both to save on labour costs for their operation and to improve their appearance. The lobby and the exterior facade were renovated to provide a more inviting entrance and expanded bookstore space. And new and better-designed signage was introduced throughout the building to provide visitors with clearer direction. At the same time, and in a spirit of hope, the Gallery reviewed its programme for new accommodations, to update and re-evaluate the requirements.

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