In the Spotlight: Rebirth of the National Gallery of Canada Review

The National Gallery is experiencing a kind of renaissance — not the 15th-century kind, but rather the re-birth of its scholarly journal, the National Gallery of Canada Review. The internationally respected periodical, last published in 2008, is being re-launched this month as an online-only publication. The first issue includes fascinating articles by NGC researchers on diverse subjects ranging from Peter Paul Rubens’ painting studio and Laurent Amiot’s silver, to Michael Snow’s photo-based work and the archived papers of Fritz Brandtner.

“I am thrilled,” said Paul Lang, Chief Curator and now Editor-in-Chief of the Review. Lang recalls that, when he was at Geneva’s Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, he was an admirer of the Review. “It was part of the scholarly reputation of the National Gallery, and it was one of the very few learned journals published by museums.”

Paul Lang (left), Chief Curator, NGC and Ivan Parisien (right), Chief, Publications and Copyright, NGC. Photo © NGC, 2016

The new online Review is almost identical to the original printed version in content, format and intention. Published annually, it seeks to disseminate research into all aspects of the national collection, with articles written by Gallery staff — curators, conservators, research fellows and librarian-archivists — as well as external researchers. Each issue will contain four or five articles, with English and French versions, and will be illustrated with reproductions of the works of art discussed, along with comparative images. The journal is designed to appeal not only to a scholarly or learned readership, but also to a general public passionate about the visual arts.

The re-launch of the Review is made possible by a partnership with Canada’s largest publisher of scholarly journals, University of Toronto Press (UTP). It was the National Gallery’s Chief of Publications and Copyright, Ivan Parisien, who first had the idea of approaching the publisher. 

Michael Snow, Authorization (1969), instant silver prints (Polaroid 47) and adhesive tape on mirror in metal frame, 54.6 x 44.4 x 1.4 cm with integral frame. NGC

Parisien had noticed that his colleagues were doing some fascinating research outside the major exhibitions, and their findings were not always making their way out to the greater art historical community. In particular, there was no associated publishing platform for research related to the Masterpiece in Focus series of exhibitions, which presents small groups of works from the national collection and new discoveries surrounding them. As he told NGC Magazine, “There was a gap when it came to scholarly publications in the visual arts.” 

Early on, a decision was made to publish the Review online only, in order to manage costs. Publishing electronically has the added advantage of accessibility. “One of our goals,” says Parisien, now Managing Editor of the Review, “is to share this knowledge as broadly as possible with the greater scholarly community — with everyone — to stimulate discussion on the various subjects that our experts will be addressing.” Readers can download and print the text for free, with open access, and view the images online. 

Fritz Brandtner, Notebook (1950s), unpublished. NGC Library and Archives, Ottawa. Photo © NGC

Parisien and Lang agree that the Review should reflect the National Gallery’s identity, with its five collecting departments. “In an ideal world,” says Lang, “I’d like each issue to have something about Canadian art, Indigenous art, photography, contemporary art, and European art. We care about balance, and of course excellence. It should be a kind of vitrine of our institution.”

Peter Paul Rubens, Head of an Old Woman (c. 1615), oil on oak, 52 x 43.3 cm. NGC

The first issue features four papers by former and current National Gallery staff. Assistant Curator Christopher Etheridge and Director of Conservation and Technical Research Stephen Gritt explore the flamboyant painting techniques and innovative studio practice of Peter Paul Rubens, seen as the most entrepreneurial and successful artist of his generation. Associate Curator René Villeneuve discusses a silver teapot made around 1825 by Canadian master silversmith Laurent Amiot, and its contribution to our knowledge of early 19th-century silversmithing in Canada.

Laurent Amiot, Regency Teapot (c. 1815), silver and wood, 15.8 x 26.3 x 16.3 cm. NGC

The National Gallery’s Chief Conservator John McElhone examines the various materials used in Michael Snow’s Authorization, along with challenges related to the work’s long-term preservation. Rounding out the first issue, Jonathan Franklin, former Chief, Library and Archives at the NGC, profiles the fascinating Fritz Brandtner Library, which reflects the artist’s life and art through nearly 175 books, catalogues, ephemera and more. 

Showcasing not only the National Gallery's collection, but also the outstanding scholarship and expertise of its research community, the newly relaunched Review makes it easier to share knowledge with art historians, art lovers, and anyone looking to delve deeper into the stories behind some of the nation's greatest treasures.

The first issue of the online National Gallery of Canada Review is available now. Click here to access the full publication.

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