European and American Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Art
While the Gallery acquired European art from the beginning, the collection was developed systematically from the 1910s with the goal of representing the continent’s diverse traditions. Thomas Gainsborough’s Ignatius Sancho (1768) was the first Old Master bought for the nation; this portrait of a former slave who became a celebrated musician and man of letters is also a testament to the Gallery’s long-standing interest in British art. At the same time, the Gallery was purchasing contemporary pieces, such as Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge: Effect of Sunlight in the Fog (1903). Today, the collection encompasses some 2,000 works from the Renaissance through the 20th century. Painting and sculpture form its core, rounded out by film, video and installation art, and complemented by a small group of decorative art.
The largest number of works comes from Britain, France and Italy, but important and characteristic pieces by Dutch, Flemish, German and Spanish artists, among others, are also on view. Aside from a representative group of works from the early Renaissance, this material dates from the 16th century onwards. In the 1970s the Gallery began to develop its collection of American art, which is strongest in post-1945 painting and sculpture, particularly Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.
Curators and conservators work together to study and preserve the collection, and new discoveries are published regularly. By organizing exhibitions around these artworks, we are able to better understand these complex objects and enrich our visitors’ experience. We are also committed to examining the provenances of the works in our care, particularly those that may have changed hands between 1933 and 1946. To learn more, please visit our Provenance Research Project.
The Gallery continues to actively seek works of art to add to the national collection. Recent acquisitions include Alejo Fernández’s Christ on the Way to Calvary (c. 1510); Simon Vouet’s The Triumph of Galatea (c. 1640–44); Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s portrait of Countess Tolstaya (1796), a major gift from a Canadian collector; Charles Meynier’s Wisdom Defending Youth from the Arrows of Love (1810); James Tissot’s Partie Carrée (1870); and Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Sunshine in the Drawing Room (1910).
Christopher Etheridge, Associate Curator, European and American Art
Christopher Etheridge studied History of Art at the University of Toronto and Harvard University, where he received his doctorate. He is responsible for the Gallery’s collection of painting, sculpture and decorative art from the Renaissance through to the first part of the 19th century. By bringing together technical art history – the study of artists’ materials and practices – and traditional art history, he hopes to better understand the full significance of these complex objects. He was co-curator of the dossier exhibition Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, a re-examination of the Gallery’s holdings of 17th-century Flemish art.
Anabelle Kienle Poňka, Associate Curator, European and American Art
Born in Germany, Dr. Anabelle Kienle Poňka studied art history, cultural studies and sociology in Münster, Germany, and Vienna, Austria. She joined the department of European and American art in 2006 overseeing the National Gallery’s collection of painting, sculpture and decorative art from 1820–1991. Previously, Kienle Poňka held positions at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, where she conducted research into its renowned German Expressionist collection and spearheaded the museum’s Nazi-era provenance research project. In 2008, she published a book on German artist Max Beckmann’s American years. Recent exhibition projects have included Monet: A Bridge to Modernity (2015) and Van Gogh: Up Close (2012), which she co-curated.
European and American Art and the National Gallery of Canada