The Art Gallery of Windsor has assembled one of Canada's finest and most unique public collections of fine art. Since its inception in 1943 at Willistead Manor in Walkerville, the AGW has acquired everything from 18th-century textile works and religious sculptures, to Inuit prints, Dutch and British master paintings, conceptual art installations, photography, and video. Together, the collection reflects the heritage, life experience and discernment of artists and collectors in this region and throughout Southwestern Ontario.
The AGW collection consists of approximately 4,000 works, which are the main focus for scholarship and educational programming. Every year the Gallery accessions approximately fifty works, largely through donation from generous collectors and artists. Once acquired, an artwork is cared for in perpetuity for the benefit of the local, regional, and national communities the AGW serves.
The history of our splendid collection cannot be discussed without recognizing the contribution of Kenneth Saltmarche (1920-2003) the Gallery's longtime curator and director. From 1946 to 1985, in addition to advising generations of regional collectors and enthusiasts, Saltmarche realized major acquisitions, including important paintings by Lawren Harris, Emily Carr, and, in particular, the Montreal artist Prudence Heward. Subsequent directors and curators from across Canada have continued this legacy, each bringing their own unique areas of expertise and interest to the Gallery's acquisitions process.
The AGW collection could not exist without the support of the vibrant arts community in Windsor and Essex County. It mirrors the cultural history of the region, as in the work of Catherine Reynolds, one of Canada's earliest-known women artists, as well as views of the Essex County area, and modern and contemporary works that comment on the international and manufacturing nature of this region. The collection features a strong group of paintings by prominent Canadian historical artists, culminating with remarkable works by Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven and David Milne.
The idea of "fine art" as a specialized form of visual expression separate from everyday life was brought to Canada with waves of colonial settlement. The influence of religion in New France was crucial, and artworks produced before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 overwhelmingly express religious sentiment. Sculpture and painting followed the Baroque style of Europe, though many self-taught artists made imaginative works of folk art. As communities grew, French Canadian artists prospered and diversified. Moneyed citizens bought secular portraits, landscapes of their "beloved forest land," and still life paintings. A highlight of the AGW collection is its strong collection of paintings by Antoine Plamondon, who led a successful career in Quebec painting stately, glowing portraits, religious scenes and still life works.
In the later 1700s the military nature of early British settlement in Canada changed the form and role of the visual arts. British military academies trained their men of war in art to aid their studies of topography, battle formation, and reconnaissance. Watercolour painting in particular served as a gentlemanly diversion during peacetime at the forts of Halifax, Montreal, and Quebec City. Military artists included James Heriot, James Pattison Cockburn and Robert Field. Such scenes of local interest and exploration provide a basis for much AGW programming. In 1830 Canada's first art exhibition was held in Halifax, and public art schools and clubs began to appear around the same time. This energy inspired the rise of organizations like the Art Association of Montreal (1860), the Ontario Association of Artists (1872) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1880).
Artists in the AGW collection, such as James Heriot, Paul Kane, Frederick Verner, and William Hind, produced key series of works that represented Canada's native peoples, a subject popular with collectors across North America and Europe. Depictions of rural life were also important, as the majority of Canada's population, and therefore its art buyers, was agrarian.
Several important artists proposed new directions towards a more "national" art. Painters Horatio Walker and Homer Watson reflected French and British influences, but added a typically North American treatment of light effects to their uniquely Northern landscapes and pastoral scenes. Matisse-like, modernist tendencies are reflected in the career of James Wilson Morrice, whose work inspired the Group of Seven.
To a large extent the Group of Seven defined Canadian painting in the first half of the twentieth century. This collective of artists shared a common goal -- to create a recognizably "Canadian" art. The AGW possesses over 150 works by members of the Group. The collection further tracks the rise of modernism in Canada as expressed in the works of Canadian-born British painter Wyndham Lewis, works by the Canadian Group of Painters, and the first waves of abstraction in both French and English Canada from the 1930s to the 1960s. Since 1980, the varied works of Betty Goodwin, Norval Morrisseau, Iain Baxter&, Rebecca Belmore and Stan Douglas, among others, represent Canadian postmodernism and beyond.
Curator of Historical Art and Collections Manager (1998-2010)
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