With over 10,000 works on paper from the 18th century to the present day), the collection of Canadian prints and drawings offers a glimpse of the country’s rich diversity of artistic expression.
Watercolours, prints and botanical studies by Thomas Davies mark the beginning of the collection. These are complemented by holdings of ‘garrison’ artists such as John Elliott Woolford, George Heriot and Charles Ramus Forrest, which depict Quebec City and British North America as recorded on their official travels. Other important military and topographical artists include Augustus Levinge (New Brunswick) and Robert Petley (Nova Scotia).
While printmaking by artists in the pre-confederation period was rare, the Gallery’s collection includes important examples, such as the remarkable suite of 12 hand-coloured aquatint and etchings by James Pattison Cockburn. The late 19th century is also well documented with prints by T. Mower Martin, Wyatt Eaton, John Hammond and Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes.
For many artists in the post-confederation period, watercolour was the medium of choice. This is reflected in works by James Duncan, who specialized in views of Montreal, as well as John A. Fraser and F. M. Bell-Smith, who sketched their trips along the newly built Canadian Pacific Railway. The recently acquired Sketchbook by Lucius O’Brien documents the artist’s first trip along the Ottawa River. The works of Alan Edson, who explored the landscape of the Eastern Townships, and William G. R. Hind, who travelled extensively from Labrador to British Columbia, enrich the Gallery’s collection with early works on paper that document artistic exploration across the country.
By the beginning of the 20th century, printmaking gained increasing favour among artists. Among the most talented practitioners are Clarence Gagnon, H. Ivan Neilson and Dorothy Stevens. Innovative printmakers, instrumental in introducing new print techniques to Canadian artists and audiences include W. J. Phillips and Ernst Neumann. Perhaps most notable from this era is a collection of colour drypoints by David Milne, a medium invented by the artist, gifted to the Gallery from The Milne-Duncan Bequest (1970).
The collection also includes an impressive representation of watercolours and drawings by Emily Carr, including the recent acquisition of her sketchbook Sister and I in Alaska. Thought to have been lost for decades, it offers important visual record of Carr’s first encounters of Northwest Coast totem poles. Group of Seven artists, best known for their landscape paintings, such as Franklin Carmichael and A. J Casson are also represented by their printmaking activities.
Drawings made during the mid-to-late 20th century are well represented with outstanding works by artists across Canada; from Jack Shadbolt (British Columbia), Paul-Émile Borduas (Quebec) to Miller Brittain (New Brunswick), among many others.
Printmaking in the later 20th century is represented by extensive collections of works by Betty Goodwin and Yves Gaucher. The collection also contains a large selection of works by such ground-breaking artists as Greg Curnoe, Joyce Wieland and Michael Snow.