On ne peut se faire une idée quelque peu précise des attentes et appréhensions de Champlain quand, en 1604, il entreprit l'exploration de la côte atlantique, sans connaître les représentations de cette région qui circulaient déjà de son temps. On était persuadé que les terres lointaines recelaient dans quelques coins perdus des nations encore civilisées, semblables à des fragments du Vieux Monde, oubliées dans le Nouveau et aspirant à la réunion avec l'Ancien. Une partie de ces spéculations nourrissait l'espoir de retrouver quelque part en Asie-Amérique les dix tribus d'Israël perdues après la séparation des royaumes de Juda et d'Israël. Une même façon de penser fondait la croyance dans l'Atlantide ou dans les Iles Fortunées. On s'attendait à y retrouver des vestiges des temps classiques miraculeusement préservés par l'isolement jusqu'à nos jours. Les légendes médiévales sur l'existence du prêtre Jean en Afrique étaient du même ordre.
Myth Or Reality
The Atlantic Coast Seen by Champlain and his Predecessors
Myths and legends of the existence of ancient civilized nations abounded in the sixteenth century. It was believed that the discovery of lost kingdoms would link the past and the present, the Ancient and the New World. Such speculation provided the context for Samuel de Champlain‘s exploration of the Atlantic coast of America beginning in 1604. One of the important fables was that of Norumbega, a myth originating in Dieppe and identifying a place that Pierre Crignon had described in his Discorso of 1539 as part of Asia where "the inhabitants are amiable and peaceful" and that "oranges, almonds or wild vines could be found." Champlain may have found a more explicit discussion of Norumbega in Voyages aventureux (1536–43) by Jean Alfonse who described "a great city where people are small and swarthy as in the Indies," and its inhabitants spoke a language which reminded him of Latin, symbolizing the conflation of antiquity and the Christian world. Alfonse's description of this mythic place was widely repeated in other texts of the time. Lescarbot added that Norumbega was discovered by the Portuguese and the Spanish, and he "corrected" Alfonse's description of the people by saying they were tall and good looking, and wore fur as proof of their wealth. Jehan Mallart recounted Alfonse's narrative in a lengthy poem dedicated to François I in 1575, and added his own embellishments, so that the ancient city became a large, beautiful island. André Thevet expanded the discourse by publishing the story of his own but imaginary voyage to Norumbega (which he situated north of Florida) and detailed an encounter with the Natives. To authenticate his story, he included Native terms such as the word Canoque for their dwellings. He thus placed the myth within the realm of reality and Mallart became the principal witness in contemporary ethnographic cultural travel traditions.
The history of the art community in the Maritime Provinces is written through a series of episodes. At various points, this narrative describes the influence of individuals and interests from outside the region or, to use the more redolent Maritime phrase, "come from away." This is particularly true of the period from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s, when the identity of the region's art milieu was strongly marked by American attitudes and strategies. The two most influential forces on the Maritime art community were the President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Frederick P. Keppel (1875–1943), and the Pennsylvanian art writer and educator Walter Halsey Abell (1897–1956) at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Their story is the subject of this article, but it is only one part of a larger story.
The work of New Brunswick artist Jack Humphrey (1901–1967) is generally understood today in the context of Atlantic regionalism. His considerable output, which included paintings of the Saint John harbour and the surrounding landscape as well as figure studies, is considered to be the expression of local subject matter, and relatively uninflected by national and international aesthetic concerns. Yet even a cursory examination of the critical discourse on Humphrey's work during his lifetime confirms his place in the history of modernism in Canada during the 1930s and 40s. Certainly Humphrey's own artistic intentions and ambitions, expressively revealed in his voluminous correspondence over the years, suggest such a reading of his œuvre. At the same time, such documentation raises compelling questions about the public perception and reception of his work.
In 1855 and 1856 Egerton Ryerson (1803–82), the Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada, and his daughter Sophia traveled through Europe buying copies of works of art for the Educational Museum that he would open in the Toronto Normal School upon his return. A major figure in the religious, political and educational life of nineteenth-century Ontario, Ryerson was successively a Methodist minister, a lobbyist for equal status for Methodists and other non-Anglican Protestant groups, and architect of Ontario's educational system. Appointed Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada in 1844, he laid the groundwork for the centralized free compulsory education system much as it exists today. He set up structures to ensure a standardized curriculum, the printing of textbooks by Canadian authors, the training, examination and inspection of teachers, pedagogical conventions, libraries in schools, and founded the professional publication, the Journal of Education.
Douglas Ord's The National Gallery of Canada: Ideas Art Architecture reads more like an extended polemic than "the first thorough analysis of the history of the National Gallery of Canada." At book's end, the reader feels as though she has been taken on an adventure tour of Canadian art and cultural politics and left with little more than one author's interpretation of a series of discrete events, documents and references bound together by their connection to the National Gallery. However the book gives no sense of the institution's history. I should state from the outset that I also work on the Gallery and, as Ord notes, my work "takes a fundamentally different approach" from his. In particular, my interest in the Gallery's exhibitionary practices has led me to focus primarily on its collections and the narratives conveyed by the permanent and temporary displays of art within the larger context of a national institution. Ord, on the other hand, seeks to analyse the Gallery as a crucible for the varying discourses of nationhood and metaphysics that have occurred within the Canadian art world of the twentieth century. This is an ambitious project that in some ways succeeds in questioning the place of the National Gallery in the formation of a nation — particularly evident in the inability of most federal governments to support the Gallery in any material way — but ultimately his book fails to explore in any depth either the actual workings of the National Gallery as an art institution, or its complicated and often fraught history.