The publication of writing on Canadian art has increased significantly throughout the latter twentieth century, particularly with the formalization of the study of Canadian art in universities and the creation of such scholarly forums as The Journal of Canadian Art History. Only recently, however, has art historical scholarship focused on the historiographical and institutional formation of the precepts that shape our understanding of Canadian art. The interest in institutions as a central component in the formation of the discipline is worth attention. Writing from a related discipline, Jody Berland has argued that the history of Canadian culture is in large part the history of institutions: the NFB, the CBC/Radio Canada, the CNR, and the governmental policies that regulate them. Canadian art fits within the same purview, shaped by institutions — museal, academic and critical — which not only have provided the means of disseminating Canadian art, but have built the framework through which works are viewed and understood. While this institutional history is important, it is only one aspect of the analysis of Canadian art history: the texts lining the shelves of university libraries and perused every year by students also require assessment and evaluation.
In a career spanning five decades, Norah McCullough (1903–1993) contributed gready to Canadian culture, particularly in the area of crafts. However, her role as one of this country's preeminent arts administrators remains largely overlooked in art historical literature. Perhaps this can be attributed to the many pathways of McCullough's career. She curated exhibitions and wrote catalogues on several significant Canadian artists; in later years she organized a traveling show of paintings by Montreal's Beaver Hall Group for the National Gallery of Canada in 1966, and twenty years after, she wrote Arthur Lismer Watercolours for the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre. The painter Ronald Bloore has credited McCullough with discovering the western folk artist Jan Gerrit Wyers, and in 1989 the Saskatchewan Arts Board presented her with a an Annual Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts.
The city most associated with the paintings of James Wilson Morrice (1865–1924) is Paris; it was his principle residence for most of his life and the only place where he maintained a permanent studio. Venice, however, is second to Paris in terms of the number of Morrice's urban images. Although he made only a few trips to Italy at the turn of the nineteenth century, Venice is the subject of over one hundred paintings (panels and canvases) and an almost equal number of drawings. There is much to suggest that these numbers could increase if and when more works come to light, especially from private collections here and abroad. Another factor that would provide more knowledge of Morrice's Venetian images is a reconsideration of the sites of artworks that are already in the public eye. This article will deal with one such example, a small panel in the Thomson Works of Art Collection in Toronto. It was first reproduced as The Flower Seller in the monograph on Morrice by the Toronto art dealer Blair Laing, where he describes the setting: "Among the most pleasing and colourful street sights in Paris are the flower vendors' markets. This one is located in front of the elegant midtown buildings on the rue Royale, or perhaps on an avenue near the Madeleine."
In an interview given to Miss Chatelaine magazine in 1973, Joyce Wieland explained her return to Canada after having spent most of the 1960s living in the United States: "I felt I couldn't make aesthetic statements in New York any more. I didn't want to be part of the corporate structure which makes Vietnam." This statement points to Wieland's shifting artistic identity from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies when she moved between the U.S.A. and Canada, and as she positioned herself strategically at the border. Many artists and intellectuals of her generation developed an anti-war, anti-corporate political consciousness, and this coincided with an assertion of Canadian identity on this side of the border. Wieland made counter-cultural values the very basis of an artistic project however. By the time of her solo exhibition True Patriot Love/Veritable Amour Patriotique at the National Gallery of Canada in 1971, she had forged an inventive and humourous political art that also challenged the norms of nationalist art. The artworks addressed Canada's political and economic sovereignty, ecological damage to the North, and the American war in Southeast Asia; and did so in the guise of conceptually-wrought photographs, cinematic fragments, objects that mimicked the plastic-wrapped world of commercial pop culture, as well as various stitched, hand-crafted, or otherwise feminized and "low-tech" artefacts. With this material heterogeneity, Wieland set in motion a process by which the attributes of nationhood could be continually unmade and remade.
Suzor-Coté fut l'une des grandes têtes d'affiche de la galerie Scott & Sons, de Montréal, avant la Première Guerre mondiale. Il aurait fait son entrée dans cette maison de la rue Notre-Dame vers 1895, en y laissant en consignation une Nature morte aux fraises qu'on jugea digne d'être placée en vitrine. C'est là que Robertine Barry, rédactrice anonyme de la «Chronique du lundi» dans le journal La Patrie, la remarqua un beau jour, en passant. En avril 1897, lors d'une autre présentation en vitrine, qui mettait cette fois en vedette un portrait au pastel de Suzor-Coté, la journaliste se remémora l'«impression ineffaçable» que lui avait laissée, quelques années plus tôt, le petit tableau représentant «une boîte de fraises à demi-renversée». Pour traduire cette impression et bien faire sentir la parfaite illusion du trompe-l'œil comme preuve éloquente du savoir-faire de l'artiste, elle eut recours au subterfuge de la fiction narrative. «J'ai d'abord cru», écrivait-elle, «que quelqu'un, entrant acheter un tableau, l'avait déposée là [elle parle bien sûr de la boîte de fraises], et qu'un malheureux hasard l'avait jetée par terre. L'illusion était complète; c'était criant de réalisme, et en l'écrivant l'eau m'en vient encore à la bouche».
Suzor-Coté at W. Scott & Sons of Montreal
The Role of the Solo Exhibition in Establishing the Career of an Artist
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (1869–1937) was one of the principal artists at the W. Scott & Sons' Gallery in Montreal. Between 1901 and 1912, he had four solo exhibitions, a feat unequalled by any other French-Canadian artist during the eighty-year history of this commercial gallery. His accomplishment provides an opportunity to examine the role of the solo exhibition as a strategy for the construction of an artist's career during the period of modernity.
Dans le catalogue de l'exposition Suzor-Coté, 1869–1937. Lumière et matière, le commissaire Laurier Lacroix affirme que Suzor-Coté n'est pas un peintre philosophe, si bien que vouloir traiter de sa filiation au symbolisme devient, pour paraphraser le titre d'une pièce de Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing. Cependant, dans les nombreux champs qui restent, sinon à découvrir, tout au moins à nourrir et à consolider dans le domaine de la recherche en art québécois et canadien, la vogue qu'a connue le symbolisme chez certains artistes, dans les années 1910 et au début des années 1920, me semble être un de ceux-là. Si tous n'ont pas eu, dans ce rapport à cette esthétique marquante en Europe à la fin du XIXe et au début du XXe siècle, la cohérence d'un Ozias Leduc, plusieurs ont entretenu un flirt plus ou moins prononcé avec cette tendance, flirt dont les degrés d'engagement et la profondeur ont varié considérablement. C'est pourquoi j'ai eu envie d'aborder cette question par le biais de quelques œuvres de Suzor-Coté, même si le résultat devait se révéler n'être qu'un peu de bruit pour rien.
A Few Thoughts on Aspects of Symbolism in the Work of Suzor-Coté and His Contemporaries
The Symbolist movement was popular, to a greater or lesser degree, with a number of Quebec artists in the 1910s and early 1920s. In light of this interest, my article looks at the work of Suzor-Coté to determine if this approach to painting might have had an influence on some of his production. The discussion begins with a brief overview of Symbolist aesthetics and philosophy as defined in Europe at the end of the 1880s, and in terms of its meaning as a creative process that was based on the subjective rather than merely the use of symbols or allegory. This distinction is particularly evident in the writings of the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, the art critic Albert Aurier, as well as in the ideas expressed by the contemporary philosopher Jean-Marie Schaeffer in L'art de l'âge moderne, l'esthétique et la philosophie de l'art du 17e siècle à nos jours, of 1992. My study of Suzor-Coté's work begins with recurring themes in Romanticism and Symbolism: Paradise Lost, the Golden Age and the flight to the Other, whether it be a natural or cultural place. These concepts embody the ideals of ontological unity and harmony that formed the foundation of such aesthetics.
Le temps n'a pas altéré la relation privilégiée que le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) entretient avec l'art de Suzor-Coté. Cette relation repose sur des bases solides, mises en place du vivant de l'artiste, à l'époque où celui-ci était parvenu au faîte de sa gloire. Amorcée avant même l'inauguration du Musée de la province de Québec, en 1933, elle s'est poursuivie pendant les quatre-vingts années de l'histoire de notre institution. Aujourd'hui, avec ses quelque deux cent cinquante peintures, sculptures et dessins de Suzor-Coté, le MNBAQ est le principal dépositaire de son œuvre. En 2002 et 2003, à l'occasion de la rétrospective Suzor-Coté, 1869–1937. Lumière et matière, plus du tiers des œuvres exposées provenait du MNBAQ.
Suzor-Coté and the Collection of the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec
The collection of works Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté in the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec is an indispensable reference source for both the researcher and the art lover. The drawings, sculptures and paintings conserved here total two hundred and forty-seven works created between 1890 and 1927; and this exceptional corpus of work constitutes one percent of the museum's extensive holdings. The Suzor-Coté collection is multifaceted and ranges from a sketchbook showing his creative process to significant pastels and images of early spring on canvas, as well as strikingly realistic drawings of Canadian "types." There is also a group of sculpted works consisting of forty plaster models. In short, the collection reflects his expressive variety of work and demonstrates the outstanding contribution he made to Canadian art in the years that preceded the period of modernity in Canada.
Although it might seem to some that Canadian artist Tom Thomson (1877–1917) has been done to death, an in-depth, scholarly gathering and examination of his work was in fact long overdue. The last major monograph on Thomson was David Silcox and Harold Town's celebratory if somewhat irreverent work, The Silence and the Storm, published in 1977. The collaborative 2002 exhibition and its accompanying multi-authored book on our national artist-hero was masterminded by the National Gallery's Curator of Canadian Art, Charles Hill and Art Gallery of Ontario Chief Curator, Dennis Reid. From the outset they must have been determined to avoid the pitfalls that have long plagued the path of those en route to "mapping Tom," (the tide of one of the essays in Tom Thomson). There is almost no mention in this book, for example, about the murky circumstances of Thomson's tragic, early death — officially by drowning in Canoe Lake in July of 1917, a few weeks shy of his fortieth birthday. No pop-psych personality analyses, speculations on the artist's love life, personal habits and interests or new possible causes of his demise are put forward, as has been the case in so many other publications on Thomson. Instead we have a serious, straightforward, scholarly look at the context — political, social, economic, aesthetic — and at the paintings. The more mundane facts of his life are kept to a point-form chronology, compiled by Joan Murray.
The slow transformation of Ottawa from lumber town to fairy-tale capital of turrets and crocketted spires is one of the central, if most unlikely, stories in Canadian architectural history. Ottawa's picturesque, neo-Gothic character is unique in the western hemisphere, and against all odds — bureaucratic indifference, political meddling, budget freezes, kickback scandals, aesthetic and cultural conservatism — the public buildings that dominate the city's core especially along Wellington and Sussex Streets, are the work of some of Canada's most inventive architects of the last 125 years. Among them are Thomas Fuller, Thomas Stent, Ross and MacFarlane, Ernest Cormier, Ernest Barrott, Arthur Erickson, John A. Pearson, John Lyle, Douglas Cardinal and the Montreal firm of Rother, Bland and Trudeau.