Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (1813-1875) was a Victorian artist whose innovations in both the production and conceptual aspects of photography have secured him a place within the history of the medium. Surprisingly there has never been a major examination of his career ….until now. The Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada presents the first-ever retrospective of the life and work of the celebrated Swedish-born, British photographer. Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer opens this Friday, October 19 at the National Gallery of Canada where it will be on view until February 3, 2019 before travelling to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition features 140 of Rejlander’s photographs, paintings, drawings and prints.
Oscar Gustaf Rejlander began his career as a painter who took up photography in the early 1850s. He is referred to as the “Father of Art Photography” in recognition of the path he paved for present day photo manipulation and experimentation. Rejlander often employed the technique of combination photography, where two or more negatives are combined to make a new, single image. The exhibition includes two of the four known surviving versions of his famously controversial composite photograph Two Ways of Life, or Hope in Repentance, produced in 1857 from more than 30 negatives. Rejlander is also praised for his collaboration with naturalist Charles Darwin and his influence on the work of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and author Lewis Carroll. Their portraits, along with those of other influential 19th-century notables, including poet Alfred Tennyson are featured in the show.
“Oscar Gustaf Rejlander has a central place in the history of the medium. He was one of the first artists to show how photography could use allegory and narrative in the same way as more traditional arts such as painting and drawing,” said NGC Director and CEO Marc Mayer. “The National Gallery of Canada began acquiring photographs by Rejlander more than 35 years ago, and we are very happy to offer the public this overview of the work of this exceptional artist.”
The exhibition opens with work created during Rejlander earliest years in England- from 1839 to 1853. The section includes some of his non-photographic work including a large scale drawing along with some of his first landscape photographs. The second section of the exhibition contains several of Rejlander’s self-portraits and portraits of his wife Mary. In the third section photographs of Rejlander’s staged scenes of everyday life are on view followed by a series of photographic studies that Rejlander intended to be used as “photographic sketches” by other artists. One section of the exhibition examines Rejlander’s most famous work Two Ways of Life while the final section presents some of Rejlander’s studies of facial expressions made for Charles Darwin in preparation for his book, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals published in 1872.
“Rejlander’s photographs are highly relevant to artists who combine and rearrange images, not from glass negatives, but using digital tools,” said exhibition curator Lori Pauli, Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada. “Throughout this exhibition, I have tried to take a broader perspective of Rejlander’s contribution to the history of photography, before and after the creation of his most famous work known as Two Ways of Life. In Rejlander’s photographs we see a keen observer of human condition, whether he is showing us the comic side of everyday life or expressing compassion in his images of children.”
Rejlander was among the favourite photographers of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert and some of his earliest photographs have been loaned for the exhibition by the Royal Collection in Windsor. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the National Gallery in Washington, the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, have also loaned works for the show along with several other lenders from private and public collections. The exhibition includes 14 works from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer is presented with support from Scotiabank, a Founding Partner of the Canadian Photography Institute. The show travels to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it will be on view from March 12 until June 9, 2019.
Also opening October 19, 2018, in the space adjacent to the Oscar Rejlander exhibition, is PhotoLab 5: Althea Thauberger. The two-channel video installation by the Vancouver-based artist and filmmaker Althea Thauberger, coproduced by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Concordia University and the Canadian Photography Institute (CPI) of the National Gallery of Canada, was inspired by discoveries she made while visiting the archival collection of the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division, whose archives are now part of the CPI collection. The thousands of photographs in the archives were commissioned for print and other media over a 40-year period, yielding stories of life in Canada in the post-war era- from small-town scenes to major events- that define our national history. Thauberger’s video installation, titled L’arbre est dans ses feuilles, (The Tree Is in Its Leaves), interacts with images from the archives while telling an evocative story of its own. Audio for the 30 minute video is provided by poets Danica Evering, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, Kama La Mackerel and Chloé Savoie-Bernard. The exhibition, which was organized by Andrea Kunard, the Associate Curator of the Canadian Photography Institute, is on display in the CPI Galleries until February 3, 2019.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 300-page hardcover catalogue containing 225 colour and black and white images. With essays by the exhibition curator, Lori Pauli, and collaborators. The English and French editions are available for a price of $40 onsite at the Boutique and online at ShopNGC.ca. The boutique opens at 10 am daily. 15% off for members.
On Thursday, October 18, from 10 am to 5 pm, Gallery members have exclusive access to the exhibition in the Canadian Photography Institute galleries. Learn more about NGC Membership.
The public is invited to attend the official exhibition opening on Thursday, October 18, starting at 6 pm in the Scotiabank Great Hall of the National Gallery of Canada. Admission is free.
Meet the Expert: Lori Pauli
On Saturday, October 20, at 1:30 pm, join Lori Pauli, Curator of Photographs and exhibition curator for a guided tour of the exhibition. In the exhibition space. In English with a bilingual question period. Included with admission to the Gallery.
Creative Thursdays: Photo Collage
On Thursday, October 25, from 6 pm to 8 pm, the Gallery proposes a creative activity inspired by the art photography of Oscar G. Rejlander with artist Kristina Corre. Demonstrations will take place at 6 pm and 7 pm. In the Scotia Bank Great Hall. Free admission. Learn more.
Hours of operation
Until April 30, 2019, the Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm, and on Thursdays from 10 am to 8 pm. Closed on Mondays. Holiday exceptions apply, and hours are subject to change without notice. Please visit gallery.ca for more information.
NGCmagazine.ca is a beautifully illustrated online source of information about the Canadian and international art world, and the National Gallery of Canada’s activities and programming. This online magazine includes articles about upcoming and travelling exhibitions, behind the scenes features, artists’ profiles, book reviews and interviews. This month, read Oscar Rejlander and the beginning of art photography. NGC Magazine is free and published here. Subscribe to the NGC Magazine newsletter here.
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About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada’s premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st centuries, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada established the Canadian Photography Institute, a global multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. For more information, visit gallery.ca and follow us on Twitter @NatGalleryCan
About the Canadian Photography Institute
The Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada is a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography in all its forms. The Institute was established in 2015 and officially launched in 2016. Its collections, which are regularly enriched with new donations, are built upon the National Gallery’s Photographs Collection, the collection of the former Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and the still photos of the National Film Board of Canada archives. Part of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Photography Institute receives unprecedented support from CPI’s Founding Partner, Scotiabank, the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) and the National Gallery of Canada Foundation. More information about the Canadian Photography Institution can be found on the Gallery’s website gallery.ca/cpi.
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