Early Aboriginal art works and paintings and sculptures to the 1970s are installed in the spacious Canadian galleries. Arranged chronologically as well as regionally, this is a presentation unique in scale, depth and quality.
Artistic production in Canada finds its roots in the objects fabricated for thousands of years by Aboriginal Peoples. Made for ritual and daily use, as well as for trade, and installed in the subsequent Canadian galleries as well, these objects create a fascinating dialogue with other art works on display.
The following two galleries focus on the art of Quebec and include paintings, sculptures and silver commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church from such artists as François Baillairgé (1759-1830) to commissioned portraits by William Berczy (1744-1813) and Antoine Plamondon (1804-1895). Juxtaposed are landscapes and genre paintings by Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872) and dramatic history paintings by Joseph Légaré (1796-1855).
In the following gallery the arts of the Atlantic colonies and Upper Canada are represented by the splendid portraits of Haligonians by Robert Field (c.1769-1819), the storm tossed ships by John O'Brien (1831-1891), the painted Croscup room (c.1846-1848) from Karsdale, Nova Scotia, the urban views of Robert Whale (1805-1887) and Aboriginal portraits by Paul Kane (1810-1871).
The paintings, sculptures and drawings by the members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (founded 1880) remain key landmarks in the history of Canadian art. From Sunrise on the Saguenay (1880) by Lucius O'Brien (1832-1899) to The Meeting of the School Trustees (1886) by Robert Harris (1849-1919) and Inspiration (1904) by Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850-1917), the visitor traces the development of Canadian art to the Impressionists William Blair Bruce (1859 -1906) and Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (1869-1937) and Post-Impressionists James Wilson Morrice (1865-1924) and Emily Carr (1871-1945).
The National Gallery's early purchases of paintings by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven have resulted in the most important collection of works by these renowned painters that includes The Jack Pine (1917) by Tom Thomson (1877-1917), The Red Maple (1914) by A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974), North Shore Lake Superior (1926) by Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970) and The Solemn Land (1921) by J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932). Decorative panels, painted in 1915 by Tom Thomson, Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald for Dr. James MacCallum's cottage at Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay complement other mural paintings installed in the Canadian galleries.
In the Water Court sculptures by such artists as Alfred Laliberté (1878-1953), Henri Hébert (1884-1950), Frances Loring (1887-1968), Florence Wyle (1881-1968) and Elizabeth Wyn Wood (1903-1966) are prominently displayed. .
The narrative of Canadian art continues through galleries devoted to the work of painters associated with Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group (1920-1921) and to the socially engaged paintings of the 1930s by such artists as Paraskeva Clark (1898-1986), Carl Schaefer (1903-1995) and Miller Brittain (1912-1968). Montreal's Contemporary Arts Society (1939-1948), including John Lyman (1886-1967) and Goodridge Roberts (1904-1974), as well as Alfred Pellan (1906-1988) paved the way for the revolutionary Automatistes associated with Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-1960) who transformed Canadian art in the 1940s.
The diversity of artistic production in the 1950s and 1960s is evident in the paintings by Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), members of Montreal's Plasticiens, Toronto's Painters XI, Saskatchewan's Regina Five and in the innovative directions explored by the artists of Vancouver displayed with paintings by Alex Colville (born 1920), Jean Paul Lemieux (1904-1990), E.J. Hughes (1913-2007) and William Kurelek (1927-1977).
Thematic installations in the last galleries provide insights into aspects of Canadian artistic production of the 1960s and 1970s that precede the art displayed in the Contemporary Galleries. The Canadian galleries are reinstalled every two years to present new acquisitions as well as loans from across Canada in new and stimulating juxtapositions.