The National Gallery of Canada’s collection of Canadian Art includes several interior architectural spaces that have been reconstructed within the walls of its galleries. These unique spaces provide a window into the built environment of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Croscup Room was originally the main parlour of Hall-Croscup House built in Karsdale, Nova Scotia. The remarkable group of scenic wall murals that adorn its walls were painted by an unknown artist in oil and graphite on plaster and set within a wooden architectural framework decorated in simulated marble and fine wood grains. There is no documentary evidence to date the paintings, but an iconographical analysis of the scenes suggests that they were executed for William Croscup and his wife, Hannah Amelia Shaffner, when the house was built, around 1845. The practice of decorating interiors with painted murals reached its height of popularity in North America during the first half of the 19th century, and many Canadian examples were concentrated in Nova Scotia. According to the family, the Croscup Room artist was a British sailor who painted ships’ cabins during the summer and undertook house decoration projects during the winter. Covering the room from floor to ceiling, the paintings visually open up the enclosed space. They depict various European and local Maritime subjects, incorporating scenes of contemporary life. Recognized as an outstanding example of Pre-Confederation Canadian interior decorative painting, the Croscup Room was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1976, complete with painted walls, floor, fireplace, doors, windows and architectural trim.
The Rideau Street Chapel was originally part of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a girls’ boarding school in Ottawa, run by the Sisters of Charity. The school first opened in 1849 and moved to Rideau Street in 1869. Over the years, it grew to occupy the entire block enclosed by Rideau, Waller, Besserer and Cumberland Streets. The Chapel was added in 1887–1888, designed by priest-architect Georges Bouillon. It is the only example of its kind in North America from this period to include a Tudor style fan-vaulted ceiling supported by slim iron columns.
The school was sold in 1970 and the entire property was scheduled for demolition in 1972. Thanks to the efforts of various community organizations who advocated for the building’s heritage status, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada declared on 26 April 1972 that “the chapel interior is of national significance on architectural ground and the owners should be encouraged to preserve it if at all possible” [Luc Noppen, One of the Most Beautiful Chapels in the Land (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1988), 20]. Two days later, the Hon. Jean Chrétien confirmed the heritage designation of the chapel’s interior.
Although the school was demolished, the chapel interior was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada. With the help and collaboration of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, the Friends of the National Gallery of Canada, various government bodies and heritage conservation groups, the Gallery was able to relocate the chapel and its original altar and altar screen – all 1123 pieces of it – to its current location inside the National Gallery of Canada’s new building in 1988, preserving this rare example of Canadian architectural history.