This House Was Made For Christmas
October 3, 2015 to January 31, 2016
Curated by Sharona Adamowicz-Clements
This House Was Made for Christmas celebrates the art of Christmas greeting cards, which were designed by seminal Canadian artists of the twentieth century. Several members of the Group of Seven, including Lawren Harris, J.E.H MacDonald, and A.J. Casson, and their contemporaries, as well as aboriginal artists of Canada are represented with works drawn from the McMichael art and archival collections as well as private holdings, some of which have never been displayed before. The inspiration for this exhibition stems from Pierre Berton’s 1956 article “The House That Was Made for Christmas” (Canadian Homes and Gardens magazine), which featured the foundation for the McMichael gallery – the actual home of the founders – as a place of special Christmas spirit. This exhibition will reflect back on the gallery’s tradition of homeliness and neighbourly gathering for holiday joy.
A.J. Casson (1898–1992), Christmas card design for Mr. and Mrs. C.A.G. Matthews, 1927, screen print, printed by Sampson-Matthews, 14.4 x 13.2 cm, Private collection
Transforming Spirit: The Cameron/Bredt Collection of Contemporary Northwest Coast Art
September 19, 2015 – February 15, 2016
Curated by Chris Finn
From the time of its creation from the treasured collection of Founders Robert and Signe McMichael, the McMichael gallery has maintained a strong interest in capturing and celebrating the stories of private collectors. Transforming Spirit tells the story of Jamie Cameron and Christopher Bredt and their passionate commitment to art from Canada’s Northwest Coast, showcasing works by 28 of the region’s most celebrated contemporary artists. In conjunction with the exhibition, a catalogue of the collection will be published, including new photography of the 49 extraordinary objects and works on paper. The catalogue will include an essay by author and specialist in Northwest Coast art, Gary Wyatt, as well as a curatorial overview of the art and artists represented in the collection.
This exhibition offers viewers an opportunity to assess a range of aesthetic qualities inherent in the work created by indigenous artists of the Northwest Coast. Distinct artistic styles have emerged from each of the First Nations communities represented, based on their social and religious customs. Cultural narratives related to historical cosmological beliefs are incorporated into both the material and ceremonial culture of the peoples. Among the works featured in the exhibition are bentwood boxes, rattles, blankets and several works on paper, all by well-known artists, as well as many examples of an object important for its expressive qualities, the mask. The last serves as a form for communicating the importance of nature, animals, and humans, as well as imagined characters that are at the core of many First Nations cultures.
Ken Mowatt (born 1944), Raven at the River Mist, 2003, birch, red cedar, copper, feathers, ermine tufts, deer hide, acrylic paint, string, 76.5 55.5 x 22.1 cm (30 1/8 x 21 7/8 x 8 11/16 in.), with stand: 78.5 55.5 x 22.1 cm (30 7/8 x 21 7/8 x 8 11/16 in.), Gift of Christopher Bredt and Jamie Cameron, 2014.6.31, Photography credit: Craig Boyko
A Foundation for Fifty Years: McMichael Masterworks
Curated by Sarah Stanners
The McMichael owes its existence and collection to the generosity of donors. A Foundation for Fifty Years will present some of the most significant donations made for the McMichael gallery’s founding year, 1966, by Signe and Robert McMichael, as well as their peers, who were all excited to make Canadian masterworks a gift to the public of Ontario. Installed in the McMichael’s principle gallery on the ground floor, this collection of masterworks celebrates our core artists - the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. Artists on show include Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, David Milne, and Emily Carr, to name just a few. The exhibition space has been restored to its 1960s modernist style, in a manner that the McMichaels intended: traditional materials with modern lines. This special exhibition kicks off the 50th anniversary of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
Arthur Lismer (1885-1969), Canadian Jungle, 1946, oil on canvas, 44.8 x 53.7 cm (17 5/8 x 21 1/8 in.), Gift of the Founders, Robert and Signe McMichael, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
From Arctic prehistory to the present day, the creation of three dimensional renderings of figurative and animal forms has played an ongoing role in artmaking in the North. Walrus ivory along with stone and wood has functioned as a source material for sculptures depicting wildlife and hunting scenes.
A selection of harpoon heads from 1000 AD, a carved ivory knife, a carved ivory handle as well as animals and hunting scenes with hunters and their prey made from ivory alone or in combination with stone and wood are on display in this exhibition.
The story of the canoe is Canada’s story, …Canada is a gigantic waterway, a complex system of lakes and rivers stretching from the Atlantic to the Rockies… In the canoe’s wake the economy and the culture of Canada appeared. There is one man in a canoe that I have especially in mind …– Tom Thomson. Of Thomson it may literally be said that he lived and worked and died in a canoe in Canada’s north country. The very waters in which he drowned are known as Canoe Lake.
But it is more important that he alone was able to express the feelings, the deep faith in nature, the wild, mute emotions of all the strong men in canoes who created this country. …Tom Thomson painted Canada not only as it looked to him but as it must have looked to his kind of man from the beginning.
Roy Atherton, 1947
These statements were made by Alfred (Roy) Atherton, the first American Ambassador to Canada, three decades after the death of Tom Thomson. His comments position the artist within a master narrative of Canada’s development as a country linking an idealized view of the man, his work and lifestyle to the symbol of the canoe and the significance of its economic role in the stimulation of exploration and geographical expansion of this country’s boundaries.
Atherton’s description of Thomson elevates him to the level of a ‘representative character’. The artist has been contextualized within a masculine, mythologizing framework that ascribes heroic qualities. He is presented as a solitary, artistic male visionary who explored the northern Canadian wilderness and produced images that provided a singular and profound expression of nature that speaks for all of the heroic (male) individuals who contributed to the early formation of this nation.
The elements for mythmaking pertaining to Thomson were in place before his death. The recognition by some of the exponential growth of his painterly skills and the intensity of his commitment to his vision of the North provided the foundation for the enduring view that emerged after Thomson’s death in which it was believed that an exceptional artist was lost to this country while in his prime. His sudden death overshadowed by speculation regarding the mysterious circumstances of his demise and coupled with the efforts of those who knew him including the members of the Group of Seven to shape perceptions of his role within Canadian art contributed to the range of stories that emerged in the decades following his passing. Thomson’s presence in the Canadian imagination continues to the present time in exhibitions, and literature, as well as in music and film.
Tom Thomson (1877 - 1917), Tamaracks, 1915, oil on wood panel, 21.3 x 26.7 cm (8 3/8 x 10 1/2 in.), Gift of Mr. R.A. Laidlaw, 1968.12
For Every Season
A re-installation of the permanent collection in 4 galleries
October 2015 — January 2016
Curated by Sarah Stanners
"The breath of the Four Seasons must ever be our basic inspiration." — J.E.H. MacDonald, A Landmark of Canadian Art (1917)
Canada is celebrated for its four beautiful and distinct seasons, which have especially inspired our landscape painters. Riots of colour in the fall leaves, soft quietude in the winter snow, the fresh promise of spring green, and the long hours of the summer sun are all vividly expressed in the painted canvases throughout this four-part exhibition. Drawn entirely from the permanent collection of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the masters of each season come forward in full colour as four galleries are dedicated to each of the four seasons: winter, fall, summer and spring.
Tom Thomson (1877-1917), Autumn Birches, 1916, oil on wood panel, 21.6 x 26.7 cm, Gift of Mrs. H.P. de Pencier, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1966.2.3
Gallery 4: Spring
Spring is considered by many to be a time of fresh starts—a blank canvas to start a new year. As the rain renews and breaks up the snow, new growth leaps forward in fresh greens against earthen browns. While traditional landscape painters embrace the spring as a time to get out into nature to paint what they see, abstract artists often use spring as a metaphor for how they feel.
Gallery 5: Summer
The long and lazy days of summer are best expressed in paint. Twilight colours in the evening promise tomorrow’s wide-open blue skies and respite from cruel weather prompts deeper explorations of the landscape. The mighty snow-topped mountain paintings—our cultural icons—are, in fact, summer subjects. For the Group of Seven, evoking the experience of the land in their painting was most important. Lawren Harris recalled that the overriding feeling he had when painting Mount Robson was a fear of the grizzly bears. Bugs were another matter, according to A.Y. Jackson.
Gallery 6: Fall
Nature is an avant-garde painter in the fall season. Audacious bursts of colour abound in the trees that are so often the primary subject of Canadian landscape paintings. For this reason, the Founders of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection set their home-turned-public gallery on the edge of the Humber River Valley where a connection between their beloved Canadian paintings and the inspirational landscape could be both seen and felt.
The fall is favoured for painting en plein air (that is, painting while out in the open air of nature). Long sessions of sketching are enjoyed while the weather is neither too hot nor too cold.
Gallery 7: Winter
Canadian painters learn quickly that mastering the representation of snow-laden hills means embracing shades of blue and violet to signal shadow. This sleepy season is anything but pure white. The low slung sun in the sky prompts a softer palette but moods are sterner, as if to acknowledge the fortitude required to survive the cold climate.
Legends: Norval Morrisseau and Anishinabek "Woodland School" Artists
(Gallery 8 - Upper Level)
First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau is celebrated for establishing a style of art that became known as the Woodland School. Morrisseau’s decision to produce his art on canvas and paper marked a shift to European-influenced traditions. His painted compositions are characterized by an intuitive use of bright, pure colour shapes contained within black form lines; a deliberate attempt to communicate his beliefs with the viewer using colour. At the same time, other First Nations artists were similarly motivated in their desire to communicate the values of their culture, and subsequent generations of artists continue to do so through the creation of unique and significant art forms.
Image: Norval Morrisseau (1931-2007), Shaman and Disciples, 1979, acrylic on canvas
180.5 x 211.5 cm, Purchase 1979, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1979.34.7