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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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OF ALL the Federal Institutions dealt with in this section the National Gallery has perhaps the most universal appeal, and has certainly achieved the widest contacts with the Canadian public. Some seventy briefs discussed its work, many of them in considerable detail. There was much appreciation and helpful criticism which will be noticed later. We were particularly interested in the wide variety of purposes represented by the groups which came before us to discuss the services and the problems of the Gallery.

2. The National Gallery has been in temporary quarters for seventy years. It was founded in 1880 by the Marquess of Lorne, who selected the pictures which were then lodged with the Department of Public Works. In 1907 an Advisory Arts Council was appointed, first, to administer grants to the National Gallery and second, to advise the Minister of Public Works on purchases of or expenditures on any works of art, including monuments in Ottawa and elsewhere. In 1910 the pictures were moved to the east wing of the Victoria Memorial Museum building where they still are. The Gallery was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1913, under the control of a Board of Trustees. The Board was entrusted with the development and management of the National Gallery, and with the cultivation of Canadian interest in the fine arts.

3. The various functions of the Gallery have been described to us in some detail in the National Gallery brief. The National Gallery, we are informed, should not in any sense play a paternal role in relation to other institutions but should advise upon, stimulate and co-ordinate art activities in Canada which the Gallery believes are the better for being the result of local initiative. The relations between the National Gallery and art societies in Canada have been, we are told, most cordial and co-operative.

4. The first charge of the National Gallery is, as the brief states, the development and care of the national collections. The Gallery's collection


of Canadian art is the most complete in existence, and the European collections, although not fully representative, are regarded as important by well-informed authorities in Canada and from abroad. Requests for the loan of important individual paintings in the collection for exhibitions in other countries are received from time to time. Each request is considered on its merits, in accordance with the importance of the occasion, the prestige and equipment of the receiving institution and the conditions of transportation. Such loans enhance the international recognition of the importance of the National Gallery collection, and the treasures of the Gallery become more widely known and studied by experts. Loans from the European collections in the National Gallery have been made to American and to British galleries. In 1949 a request was received for a Botticelli to be sent to a special exhibition in Florence.

5. The second important service of the Gallery is the arrangement of loans and exhibitions from abroad, or from its own holdings which are sent to galleries throughout the country. During the past twenty-five years exhibitions have been brought to Canada from some twenty other countries including Britain, France, the United States, Australia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. In addition, the Gallery sponsors exhibitions of Canadian painting which have increased in number from 31 in 1928-29 to 200 in 1947-48. These may be arranged by the chartered art societies, such as the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, the Canadian Group of Painters or the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour. The Gallery has arranged from time to time retrospective exhibitions of the work of Canadian artists, notably those of Morrice, of Emily Carr and of Pegi Nicol.

6. There are, however, two major limiting factors, apart from the cost, in the extension of loan exhibitions. One is the absence in other Canadian cities of fireproof buildings in which to hang the pictures, and the other is the want of experienced staff in local galleries to take care of unpacking, display and repacking. There are only about six local art galleries in the country completely satisfactory in these respects.

7. Another very important function of the Gallery is its general extension work. In 1922 the present Director, on tour in Western Canada, discovered the need for reproductions of Canadian pictures. A year or two later a series of reproductions in large and in postcard sizes was begun. These were sent out to schools with lesson leaflets prepared by an expert in art education. This educational programme was carried further with the development of radio which made possible broadcasts from the Gallery over the national network. The National Gallery has also taken an active part in the production of films dealing with the work of Canadian artists. It has encouraged lecturers from abroad to come to Canada. The officials of the National Gallery consider that broadcasts and films on art undertaken at national expense are a legitimate and essential


part of the Gallery's responsibilities. The production of large silk-screen prints of Canadian paintings was undertaken by the Gallery during the war. These reproductions have been displayed throughout Canada and in many places abroad. We were interested in a suggestion from British Columbia that they should be purchased for display in rural post offices in order to bring Canadian paintings to Canadians everywhere.

8. The National Gallery also undertakes to send exhibitions of Canadian art abroad. This work began in 1924 when the Gallery was put in charge of the Canadian Section of Fine Arts at the British Empire Exhibition in London. The event created great interest in Canadian art and has been followed by a series of Canadian exhibitions in various parts of the world for which the Gallery has been responsible. These include the first continental exhibition of Canadian art in Paris in 1927, and later exhibitions in the Argentine, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The series culminated before the recent war with the "Century of Canadian Art" at the Tate Gallery in London in 1938. Since the war there have been other important exhibitions including the recent large and representative one in Washington.

9. The National Gallery states that it can only with difficulty carry on even its present services unless certain immediate needs are met. First of all, it asks that its present anomalous position in relation to the Department of Public Works be clarified and that it be established as a separate branch of government under a Board of Trustees, with a status similar to that of the Public Archives. It is further suggested that the general advisory functions of the former Advisory Arts Council be revived and re-assigned to the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery. It is considered important that some competent authority be responsible for advising the Government on such art matters as are properly a matter of public interest.

10. The second pressing need, according to the brief, is a new building. The present building is inconveniently situated, ill-arranged and badly lighted; it lacks proper facilities for the staff; it is overcrowded, and the temporary partitions together with the highly inflammable materials used in the basement workshops form a serious fire hazard. The very large collection of historical paintings of the First and Second World Wars is, for the most part, still in storage. The new Gallery should have adequate space for the display of pictures, prints and drawings, sculpture and loan exhibitions, a reference section, a library and proper office accommodation and an air conditioning plant. A photographic studio and a laboratory for the inspection and repair of works of art are also necessary. The present laboratory, which is completely inadequate, undertakes to serve all the public galleries in Canada.

11. A greatly increased staff is also needed immediately since the amount and the variety of work at present is quite beyond the power


of the Director and of his three professional assistants. The following statistics1 give a comparison between the present staff of the National Gallery and the staffs of certain American galleries which, although they may have larger collections, obviously have not comparable national responsibilities:

Staff Members
Philadelphia Museum of Art 46
Cleveland Museum of Art 45
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 43
Worcester Art Museum 33
Art Institute of Chicago 32
Toledo Museum of Art 26
National Gallery of Canada 4

It was suggested to us that the staff of the National Gallery should be at least doubled immediately.

12. For the extension of the staff and for the purchase of works of art an increased appropriation is urgently needed. Another comparison with the annual budgets of American galleries shows how modest is the amount spent by Canada's National Gallery: 2

Boston Museum of Fine Arts$317,498$955,963
Toledo Museum of Art 328,447 656,894
Cleveland Museum of Art 157,305 493,754
Philadelphia Museum of Artnot published798,094
National Gallery of Canada
(average for 10 years) 32,000 90,000
(appropriation 1950-1) 75,000 260,7703

In the ten years before 1950 the National Gallery cost the country less than one cent per head of the population per annum. The figure in the United Kingdom and in the United States would be at least three or four times this amount.

13. We received interesting information on the Industrial Design Section of the National Gallery, a recent venture which has received much support and encouragement. In a number of western countries there have been conscious and concerted efforts by government departments and agencies, manufacturers and others for the improvement of industrial design. The well-known Swedish experiment was described to us as well as more recent developments in Great Britain and in the United States.

14. In Canada, there are few industrial designers and only since the recent war has there been official recognition of the importance of Canadian industrial design. In 1946, the Department of Reconstruction and the National Research Council co-operated with the National Gallery and the National Film Board in putting on an exhibition which might provoke


interest in the matter. The exhibition was arranged, was shown at the convention of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association and later toured the country.

15. As a result of the interest aroused among manufacturers and others, a small office was established in 1947 under the supervision of the National Gallery to investigate problems of industrial design, to establish a record of all original Canadian work, and to answer the numerous requests for information. In the following year, partly because of American exchange difficulties and the resulting demand for parts and products designed and made in Canada, there was established an Advisory Committee of some thirty manufacturers, designers and representatives of universities which meets several times a year to advise the Industrial Design Section, to co-ordinate efforts for the improvement of industrial design, to develop public interest through exhibitions, and to provide training for those engaged in design through the grant of scholarships.

16. The great need of the Industrial Design Section at present is for more space for its activities and for exhibition purposes. We understand that arrangements are being made to meet this need. We have been reminded more than once of the importance of good industrial design as a means of raising the level of public taste. In the United States, as in our own country, art galleries have assumed much responsibility in this work of general education.

17. We have dealt with the work of the National Gallery in general terms because, as the preceding pages have shown, much of its important work goes on outside the building, and far from Ottawa. It was mentioned earlier that the original function of this national institution was to encourage Canadian interest in the fine arts. It operates therefore not only in Ottawa but throughout the country, and to see its work as a whole one must leave the capital and visit the local galleries in the provinces.


18. The local art gallery in Canada, although confronted with serious and sometimes baffling problems, presents on the whole a cheering picture. Just as the National Gallery is the federal institution in which voluntary societies take the most interest, so the local gallery in many places receives the warmest support. There are a number of reasons for this. Painting is one of the arts in which Canadians have acquired some reputation even beyond the borders of the country, and there is within Canada a wide and growing enthusiasm for amateur painting. Moreover, local galleries have been fortunate in maintaining a connection with and securing services from the national institution, as well as in co-operative efforts among themselves. A reading of the briefs and evidence reveals no undue com-


placency but an intelligent and critical evaluation of what they have been able to do for themselves and of what the National Gallery may do for them.

19. We have heard from nine galleries in all, including all but one of the "Grade A" galleries in Canada, so called since they have reasonably fireproof buildings and are recognized by the National Gallery as suitable and safe for valuable exhibitions. We have also learned of nine other regular exhibition centres, and of nine painting and sketch groups which hold exhibitions as or when they can. We have thus learned of the plans and problems of a great variety of institutions from the large metropolitan gallery to the local sketch group holding its annual amateur exhibition in the basement of the fire hall.

20. It is, however, scarcely necessary to mention that there is no gallery in Canada to compare with the wealthy and established institutions to be found in the United States and abroad. All galleries in Canada regard themselves as poor; but with their limited resources they try to carry on all usual functions of such institutions and to make the most of what they have. Collections are developed with care and economy. Poor galleries, we were told, cannot afford to buy in the fashionable market, but must secure what is good at a time when it is not dear. There was much interest in problems of arrangement and display to meet the needs both of the public and of students. Small and flexible permanent displays with special facilities for students are recommended by the Art Gallery of Toronto.

21. Much attention was given to travelling exhibitions which naturally are of special interest to small galleries. All those from which we heard receive exhibitions from various sources; through the National Gallery, or directly from abroad, and from different parts of Canada. Local exhibitions, professional and amateur, especially the latter, are of course available to all galleries, large and small. Some larger galleries, although they may depend exclusively on local support, devote much time and effort to organizing regular series of exhibitions in smaller galleries in their areas. The Art Gallery of Toronto offers a number of circulating exhibitions every year to various institutions. These are composed mainly of photographic panels or reproductions, with a few originals. For the past seven years, the London Art Museum has operated a regular circuit in nine cities of western Ontario; sometimes speakers accompany the exhibitions. Other cities have asked to be admitted to this circuit and have had to be refused; but occasional exhibitions have gone much farther afield, even to Prince Edward Island. The gallery would like to increase this service, at present offering about 100 showings a year, if its resources permitted.

22. Art circuits may also be arranged co-operatively by all the galleries in a certain region. In Western Canada three "Grade A" galleries participate with eleven smaller galleries to form the Western Canada Art Circuit, created in 1944 to facilitate the exchange and circulation of


exhibitions among its members. Exhibitions are selected and a schedule is drawn up at an annual conference. A nominal charge to each centre for every exhibition has recently been established, but most of the work must be done, with difficulty, by voluntary effort and in the "spare time" of the Director, who is also Director of the Calgary Allied Arts Centre. These services stimulate and nourish the small and isolated centres. Were it not for the Western Canada Art Circuit, we were told, there would not be more than four or five galleries in Western Canada.

23. It is in the arrangement of travelling exhibitions that the local gallery and the National Gallery have their most intimate contacts and most fruitful co-operation. Although local galleries are not exclusively dependent on the National Gallery for their exhibitions, they do draw on its resources to a considerable degree. On the other hand, without the premises of the local gallery and the services of those responsible for them, the National Gallery would be unable to perform what is, as we have seen, one of its chief functions, the sending out of travelling exhibitions throughout the country for the benefit of the Canadian people as a whole. We found everywhere in Canada the warmest appreciation of the exhibitions of the National Gallery. These expressions of appreciation were accompanied by helpful and constructive suggestions.

24. On the subject of travelling exhibitions, forty groups in all parts of the country discussed their problems and their needs. It must be remembered that exhibitions, important to all galleries, are essential to the smaller ones, which depend on them for most of their interest and support. We received numerous statements that the National Gallery should send out more exhibitions and, if possible, exhibitions of higher quality. A better representation of Canadian painting in particular was urged. Local galleries also described to us the difficulties under which they often must work. Lack of adequate permanent premises, lack of facilities for unpacking the pictures received for exhibition purposes, and want of even sufficient experienced help have meant that local arrangements must often be made at the cost of much sacrifice of time and effort on the part of busy people.

25. The officials of the National Gallery were clearly well aware of these problems. The Gallery fully shares the view of local institutions that it exists to serve the nation and not the capital city alone. As we have said, the Gallery for many years has maintained a generous and even ambitious policy of travelling exhibitions, and has regarded this activity as a major responsibility. A substantial proportion of its expenditure, apart from purchases of works of art, is directly related to extension services to other parts of Canada.

26. Since it is responsible for the pictures belonging to the nation, the Gallery, as was pointed out, must ensure that these are not exposed to undue risks through lack of careful handling and unnecessary hazards in


the premises where they are shown. As we have already mentioned, the Gallery suffers from shortage of space and from insufficient staff. These factors have limited the expansion of the Gallery's services. Our attention was drawn by local institutions to the importance of personal contact between themselves and the National Gallery; they suggested the appointment of regional directors in their areas to serve as links between themselves and the Gallery. We understand that this could be achieved by an increase in the Gallery's staff, which would make possible closer personal contact between the Gallery and the local institutions, to the advantage of the important common task in which they are co-operating.

27. We believe that the organizations which have appeared to discuss this matter would wish us to state once more that their criticisms were not intended to convey any lack of appreciation of the exhibitions received. The following quotation from the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts would, we think, find general acceptance:

"The Academy wishes to compliment the Trustees of the National Gallery, their director and his assistants, on their able and imaginative administration. It is well known that they have carried out their programme under most confining circumstances, without a home of their own, and without adequate facilities of any kind. With the most meagre subsistence allowance, they have attempted to cope with the growing cultural needs of a modern state. Though Canada now ranks third among the trading nations of the world, we find its National Gallery still operating on a budget more appropriate to an earlier age and in a manner incommensurate with its national responsibility." 4

28. An activity of local galleries which they consider important and in which they would welcome help and co-operation from the National Gallery is the provision of regular instruction in art for children and for others of all ages and, in general, the encouragement of amateur efforts of all kinds. As a rule, the task of the gallery is not so much to arouse interest as to meet an insistent demand. We were particularly interested to learn of generous grants made by the Carnegie Corporation of New York to galleries in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and to the National Gallery of Canada, for developing educational programmes in art museums. The funds from the Corporation are now exhausted, but as far as possible the work is continued with local support. In particular, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts maintains a regular School of Art and Design, offering a three year course, and serving in various ways nearly 500 students. This is, of course, a special project, but is not unrepresentative of the responsibility felt by art galleries in general for the education of the public. Less formal education is carried on in a variety of ways through loans and loan exhibitions to schools and other institutions, special gallery lectures, picture rentals and other devices.

29. Many suggestions were made about ways in which the National


Gallery could help this educational work. There was a general expression of opinion that exhibitions should be accompanied by experienced lecturers. The request for lecturers with exhibitions or simply with coloured slides came from ten groups in various parts of the country. 6 If it were found impracticable to send out lecturers, appropriate publications were suggested. A number of organizations mentioned with enthusiasm the successful magazine Canadian Art, a National Gallery publication begun in 1942. 7 Other educational services requested were more and better reproductions, a more popular magazine of art, more publicity for existing art library facilities, a union catalogue of all public and private collections in Canada available for lending, a photographic and film collection of Gallery holdings from which prints might be distributed, a loan system of coloured slides with descriptive lectures for schools, and a series of radio broadcasts of high quality. The brief of the Art Gallery of Toronto discusses in some detail the functions of a gallery in relation to lecture tours, extension lectures, broadcasts and so forth.

30. The nation-wide problem of securing and retaining a trained staff was discussed thoroughly. This problem closely affects both the everyday work of the local gallery and its relations with the National Gallery. Several interesting ideas were presented; for example, that the facilities of the National Gallery, in co-operation with other large galleries, be more completely organized for the training of curators. The possibility of scholarships for travel abroad was also discussed. The urgent need of small communities for persons with at least some training was repeatedly brought to our attention and the suggestion made that the National Gallery offer short courses for the immediate use of community leaders, some of whom might ultimately wish to become professionals. Finally, the request was made that the National Gallery arrange an annual convention for directors and curators with a view to their mutual instruction and inspiration. 8

31. One other important question received attention from a number of groups: the relation of the Gallery to the contemporary artist. It was pointed out that Canadian artists depend much more on public and less on private galleries than do their fellow artists in the United States. Increased purchases by the National Gallery of contemporary Canadian art would provide one remedy. Annual artists' shows nationally sponsored with financial awards were also proposed, and exhibitions of the successful pictures throughout Canada after their display in the Gallery. The Federation of Canadian Artists would like a National Gallery committee to promote the sale of Canadian pictures. Two organizations suggested rental fees for pictures, a practice which, as we remarked elsewhere, is followed in Great Britain. Finally, on the assumption that the former functions of the Advisory Arts Council would be resumed by the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery, two national groups of artists suggested the appropriation of one per cent of the cost of all federal buildings for sculpture and murals.


32. A final problem discussed by many local art groups must be mentioned because it proposes an important change in Gallery policy on which there is definite disagreement. Certain groups suggest that the Gallery, to be truly national, should be decentralized. Some eight organizations and individuals advocate branch or affiliated galleries throughout the country with (some suggest) at least one in every province. 9 The exact relations which these should have with the central gallery are not always made clear. One group seems to imply that these branches should be owned by the Federal Government. Another suggests that an assistant to the curator be supplied by the Federal Government. Most seem to have in mind a gallery, supported by local funds, receiving national pictures on permanent loan. It was submitted that this would encourage cities and towns throughout the country to raise their standards of building and of curatorship.

33. To this plan one group was definitely opposed, objecting to any dispersal of the national collection. Others, without going so far as to suggest branch galleries, suggested semi-permanent loans on a generous scale, or alternatively, the practice of having an important part of the Gallery collection on tour constantly, spending perhaps a year at a time in each "Grade A" gallery. 10

34. In general, it is probably true to say that most organizations would be satisfied if arrangements could be made to finance a more extensive exhibition policy. Five national organizations of widely different interests, (only one of them even indirectly connected with the fine arts) advocated nation-wide exhibitions, if necessary, at the nation's expense.11 There were many detailed suggestions for increasing the number of National Gallery exhibitions, and for means by which they might go to smaller places. The importance of offering small collections for places of limited exhibition space was emphasized by one group with a small but fireproof hall. There was also some discussion of the needs of rural areas, and it was suggested that they might be served by exhibitions of reproductions and of photographs, perhaps through the co-operation of such rural organizations as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Women's Institutes of Canada or Les Cercles des Fermières.

35. In all our dealings with local galleries we were much impressed by the enthusiasm with which they were operating, under very difficult conditions, and by their determination to increase and develop their activities. Many of their comments on the National Gallery clearly indicated both their conviction that this important national institution could do much to help them and their determination to exploit its resources to the full. The many helpful suggestions and criticisms offered are evidence of the keen interest which has been developed in painting and the related arts through the joint efforts of the National and the local galleries.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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