James Wilson Morrice: The A.K. Prakash Collection in Trust to the Nation
One of Canada’s foremost modernist painters, James Wilson Morrice (1865–1924) had a unique genius for distilling the life that swirled around him in markets, cafés, and parks into timeless moments. In fact, his genius was so pronounced that in 1909 the leading French critic of the period, Louis Vauxcelles, called Morrice the best North American painter on the international stage since the death of Whistler.
On view at the National Gallery of Canada from 13 October 2017 to 18 March 2018, the exhibition “James Wilson Morrice: The A.K. Prakash Collection in Trust to the Nation” tells the story of an artist’s ascent as one of Canada’s foremost modernists. But it also intertwines this story with the passion of an avid art collector, Mr. Ash K. Prakash. For nearly four decades, Prakash assembled the collection with sensitivity to the evolution of the artist and an eye for the variety, artistic quality, and depth shown in key moments in Morrice’s career.
“My relationship with Morrice and his work,” the collector says, “is that of a lover and a beloved. It has never been didactic, or scientific, or analytical. It has been a magnificent obsession that I have pursued with reckless abandon.”
In celebration of Morrice’s legacy and the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Prakash donated the collection of 49 paintings and watercolours to the Gallery in 2015.
Many of the eminent works in the A.K. Prakash Collection attest to the recognition that Morrice received in Canada and abroad. For example, At the Water’s Edge – one of the collector’s favourite small studies in oil – was first owned by Frantz Jourdain, president of the Parisian Salon d’Automne during Morrice’s lifetime.
“Surprisingly, Canadian and European audiences are generally not aware of his exceptional career abroad,” says Katerina Atanassova, Senior Curator of Canadian Art at the NGC and curator of this exhibition. “By intertwining the story of the artist, the collector and the collection, this exhibition offers visitors a journey of discovery that will help enrich our understanding of Morrice and his pivotal role in the development of modern art in Canada.”
Morrice himself was an experienced world traveller. Montreal-born, he moved to Paris in 1890, choosing to establish himself as an artist in the famed city of light. From there, he travelled across France (including sojourns in Brittany and Normandy) to Italy (most frequently Venice), to North Africa (visiting Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria), and finally to the Caribbean. Commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund to record the advancement of the Canadian troops, Morrice journeyed to the Front as a Canadian War Artist in February 1918. He also regularly travelled home to Canada and painted in Montreal, Quebec City, and the Côte-de-Beaupré region. But no matter where he painted, his images, like Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, portrayed the theatrical, ever-changing drama of modern life.
Each work in the collection reveals a self-assured forerunner who epitomized the new axiom in painting through compression rather than elaboration, which was then at the heart of modern art. Instead of adopting one set of artistic principles, Morrice’s art evolved into a personal aesthetic informed by varied influences and experiences, making his art strikingly innovative in both Canadian and international settings. Indeed, Morrice was the first Canadian artist to show at the Venice Biennale. That was in 1903. He participated in subsequent Biennales during his lifetime and was posthumously represented at the inaugural exhibition of the Canada pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1958, an indication of his influence and enduring popularity long after his death.
Arranged in chronological order and also in accordance with his preferred painting locations, the stories of Morrice’s life and art are explored in this first presentation of the entire A.K. Prakash Collection.
On view at the National Gallery of Canada from 13 October 2017 to 18 March 2018, the exhibition will travel to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (12 April–2 July 2018), the Art Gallery of Alberta (20 July–7 October 2018), and the Musée d’art de Joliette (2 February–5 May 2019). It is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated publication, available from ShopNGC.ca, that explores the rich artistic traditions in which James Wilson Morrice was a participant. Please visit the Gallery’s YouTube channel to watch videos about the collection including “What is a ‘pochade’?”