McMichael - Canadian Art | Collection d'art Canadien

Past Exhibitions


Once Upon a Time...

Storytelling plays an essential role in the history of art and humankind. Child's Play, an educational exhibition displaying some of the most intriguing works from the McMichael's permanent collection invites you to bring a personal dimension to the art-viewing experience.

Read-a-story or share-a-story based on one of the artworks listed below, and let the story unfold...




Artist Biography - Christiane Pflug

The short and tragic life of Christiane Pflug was disturbed by intermittent displacements.  Born in Berlin, during the Second World War she was sent by her widowed mother to the Austrian Tyrol town of Kitzbüh, where, according to the artist, she grew up in a cold and restrictive world of adults. 

While studying fashion design in Paris, Pflug met her husband Michael, a medical student and an artist who became an inspiring presence in her life. She followed him to Tunis, Northern Africa, and later settled in Toronto with their two daughters, Esther and Ursula.

Essentially self-taught, Pflug achieved recognition for her artwork in Canada. Honoured by three important exhibitions, she was one of few female instructors who taught at the Ontario College of Art and Design in the 1960s.
Pflug’s fascination with dolls dates back to her early childhood when, during her first separation from her mother, she spent some time at a large estate home in Regensburg, Bavaria.  Although the nursery was filled with dolls, Christiane was forbidden (by their young owner) to touch them. In her memory, the longing and desire to protect these dolls – specifically during one frightening stormy night – fused with unfulfilled longing and desire to be protected, became an intense anxiety which Pflug never properly resolved.

Artist Biography - Alex Colville

Alex Colville was born in Toronto in 1920, but he is irrevocably associated with the Maritime Provinces—where his family moved to when he was just 9 years old. After studying and later teaching art and art history at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Colville moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in 1973, and established himself as a war artist.

Prompted by the horror of concentration camps, Colville used his art as a meditative instrument. The realistic, yet, metaphorical style of his painting quickly became popular among the art critics and the general public. Today, Colville is internationally recognized as a leader in Canadian Magic Realism.

Colville’s compositions are rigorously constructed according to a precise, almost mathematical equation. His deceptively simple domestic scenes, hold a sense of unresolved tension and anxiety, reconfiguring the present state into an unknown and sometimes threatening reality.

Artist Biography - Helen McNicoll

Born in Toronto, Helen Galloway McNicoll spent her childhood in Montreal in a wealthy, upper middle class environment. Despite losing her hearing as a young child due to a bout with scarlet fever, she was raised to be an independent young woman. She studied art with William Brymner at the Art Association of Montreal School and at the Slade School of Art in London, England. After a short stay in France, McNicoll joined an artist colony at St. Ives in Cornwall, England. She eventually remained in England where she continued to paint outdoor scenes in an adopted impressionist style until her untimely death in 1915 at the age of thirty-six.

McNicoll’s scenes of children are lacking sentimentality so characteristic of many works on this subject. Her young models were mostly fishermen’s daughters from Cornwall, who loved dressing in the fine white garments that McNicoll always carried with her. These charming girls, depicted in natural settings, are completely absorbed in a variety of daily tasks such as picking flowers or apples, fishing along a river, or working around the house.


Artist Biography - Pegi Nicol MacLeod

Born as Margaret Nicol in a small town of Listowel, Ontario, Pegi Nicol MacLeod received her artistic education from the Ottawa School of Art under the tutelage of Franklin Brownell, and from the École des beaux-arts in Montreal. Influenced by the Group of Seven, she initially established herself as an accomplished landscape and portrait painter working in the modernist style. However, MacLeod’s deep fascination with the figure and movement, combined with her social awareness, led her to urban life subjects in the 1930s.

In 1937 recently married MacLeod agreed to move her financially strained family to New York City. They settled in a dreary and seedy neighborhood known as Germantown, on East 88th Street, in Manhattan. Her new kitchen, colourfully painted and filled with flowers, became her studio and observation tower. Inspired by her immediate environment, MacLeod’s works adopted the standpoint of a witness, recording—in a manner of snapshots, the view from her studio window. In the last years of MacLeod’s short life, her young daughter Jane became the subject of many of her paintings.


Artist Biography - Nicholas de Grandmaison

Born in 1892 into an aristocratic family in Russia, Nicholas de Grandmaison studied art, music, history, languages, cartography and topography. After spending most of the First World War in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, de Grandmaison immigrated to Western Canada in 1923.

In the 1930s and 1940s de Grandmaison began painting and sculpting portraits of the Plains Indians of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta, convinced that the traditional aboriginal cultures and lifestyles would soon disappear.

Having a unique relationship with his subjects, de Grandmaison’s portraits seem to capture their strength, vitality and emotion. His work is now represented in both public and private collections across Canada and his honours include induction into the Royal Canadian Academy, the Order of Canada and receipt of the Blackfoot name Eenuk-Sahpo'p (Little Plume).


Artist Biography - J.E.H MacDonald

Famous for his breathtaking panoramas of the Algoma region and the Rocky Mountains, J.E.H. MacDonald was a versatile artist. An acclaimed graphic designer, painter, and critical writer, MacDonald became a mentor to a group of young artists employed under his supervision at the commercial design firm Grip Ltd., with whom he later co-founded the Group of Seven.

In 1902, when the portrait sketch Thoreau MacDonald 9 months was created, MacDonald was at the peak of his graphic career and just venturing into the practice of oil painting. Thoreau was MacDonald’s only son, named after Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist and transcendentalist poet greatly admired in Canadian literary circles. Thoreau MacDonald, like his father, also became a notable graphic artist illustrating and publishing various books including a volume of J.E.H. MacDonald’s poetry entitled West by East in devotion to his father’s memory.


Artist Biography - Norval Morrisseau

Appointed in 1986 as the Grand Shaman of the Ojibwe, Norval Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, was a celebrated First Nations spiritual leader and a prolific painter. With a profound knowledge of the Anishnabe culture and pictorial tradition, Morrisseau perceived his artistic creation as a part of his shamanic mission to guide others on the path towards spiritual understanding and growth.

Morrisseau’s success is attributed to his first exhibition at Toronto’s Pollock Gallery in 1962.  His art strongly reverberated among other First Nations artists and contributed to the development of a dynamic art movement called the Woodland School.

Several of Morrisseau’s paintings are depictions of the artist’s shamanic visions experienced in his dreams.  Although Morrisseau fathered six children with his wife Harriet Kakegamic, the portrait, Artist’s Wife and Daughter, was—according to Morrisseau, something he experienced in one of his visions, not an actual representation of his wife and daughter.


Artist Biography - Arthur Lismer

Born in Sheffield, England, Arthur Lismer immigrated to Canada in 1911. A talented draughtsman, Lismer became associated with the Toronto commercial design firm Grip Ltd. In 1920, together with some of the firm’s fellow artists, he co-founded the Group of Seven. An accomplished landscape painter, Lismer had also a life-long interest in the figure and still-life subjects. His famous satiric cartoons form a genuine visual record of the contemporary Toronto art scene.

A dedicated art educator, Lismer designed and supervised the children’s programming at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) and later at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Lismer particularly enjoyed working with children. He believed that children were gifted with a natural imagination and an acute sense of wonder that art education could allow them to preserve and turn into a creative force in their lives.


Artist Biography - Joe Jacobs

Joseph Jacobs is a Cayuga artist born on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. He currently resides in Lewiston, New York. Jacobs started to carve in steatite during a period of convalescence after a serious construction accident in 1967. Inspired by the stories of the elders and the readings of the ethnographic collections, Jacobs explores the legends of his Haudenesaunee Nation in his sculptures .

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