The primary focus of the AGW Collection is Canadian art. In its Canadian focus, the Collection is distinct from and complementary to that of our nearest public art museum neighbour, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The scope of the AGW Collection reflects Canada’s young political structure; it predates the formation of Canada as a nation (formed 1867) and continues to present day. The definition of a “Canadian artist” includes those who have partial and/or complete experiences living in Canada and Indigenous artists from various geographies including the Great Lakes and Nunavut. To demonstrate the breadth of artistic practice in many media, the AGW Collection includes works in painting, photography, printmaking, drawing, sculpture, experimental film and moving-imagery, mixed media constructions, fabric art, and multi-media installations. The AGW Collection has grown close to 4,000 works since the Gallery’s first acquisitions in 1943.
The Gallery’s first acquisition was the Carrara marble carving of Venus, modelled after 17th-century Italian artist Giovanni da Bologna’s original in the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy. Windsor patron and one-time AGW Board Chair, Dr. Clare Sanborn, made the first gifts of Canadian art to the AGW—the bronze sculptures by Québeçois artist, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté, The Pioneer and The Pioneer’s Companion. These three acquisitions set the stage for a Canadian-focussed Collection that maintained ties to arts of other countries in the Western hemisphere.
Since the outset, the AGW Collection has been strategically developed as a director/curator-built collection, as compared to a benefactor-built collection such as the Broad Art Museum, Los Angeles, or the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario or the Audain Museum in Whistler, BC. Long-time AGW Director/Curator Kenneth Saltmarche worked at the AGW for 40 years, and he made it his legacy to bring significant breadth and depth to the AGW Collection during his tenure. He published articles about it in Canadian Art (1957) and the University of Windsor Review (1968), and when he retired in 1985, he was invested a Member of The Order of Canada in recognition for his work. Growing the Collection has also been the ongoing work of the Gallery’s directorial and curatorial teams, which have included Daphne Hein, Edward D. Fraser, Alf Bogusky, Grant Arnold, Vincent Varga, Catharine M. Mastin, Nataley Nagy, Robert McKaskell, Glen Cumming, Helga Pakasaar, James Patten, Gilles Hébert, Cassandra Getty, Srimoyee Mitra, Jaclyn Meloche and Christopher Finn.
The goal of a public art collection is to provide the whole spectrum of society with access to unique aesthetic experiences that enrich and challenge our own perspectives of the world. Public art collections—which owe their origins to the Salons of 18th- and 19th-century Europe—offer us democratic places for aesthetic appreciation, intellectual growth, freedom of expression, and dialogue.
The AGW is committed to providing year-round public access to the Collection you have entrusted in our care. Fifty percent of exhibition gallery space is dedicated to this purpose in the third floor galleries in multi-year and changing exhibitions. The two largest galleries (6,000 square feet/1,830 metres) feature thematic topics including portraiture, the body, Canadian heritage and the land, and historical paintings including European and North American art. The Winterbottom Gallery is dedicated to artworks using moving-image technologies. Year-round you will find changing exhibitions from the AGW Collection in the Cohen Gallery. Since 2012, we have developed an average of 3-4 changing exhibitions from the Collection featuring group-artist, solo artist and thematic projects such as David Milne, Mary Wrinch, the Walter Carsen Collection, the Feminist Art Gallery, the Group of Seven and Invited Contributors, Claude Tousignant, David Blackwood, and many more. This Gallery offers a light-controlled space suitable for fragile works on paper such as paintings in watercolour, prints, photographs and drawings. The Gallery’s north and south points on the second and third floors also offer a selection of sculptural works made in materials durable enough to withstand direct sun exposure (steel, bronze, and aluminum, for example) through the brightly-lit and glazed spaces. Many of the Gallery’s decorative arts collections in ceramics and furnishings are on long-term display at Willistead Manor, Willistead Park, Windsor.
Each year the AGW lends to many other professional public art galleries and art museums in Canada and around the world. This way, works in the AGW Collection can be widely shared, enjoyed and interpreted (which is why you may not see one of your favourite works on display). If you are interested in learning what works have been loaned in recent years, please see the Annual Reports section of this website and scroll through to the loans section of the reports since 2007.
There are many ways—but perhaps the best is to spend time at the AGW looking at the art itself. Once you are here, you can explore the stories of single artworks, important artists, and Collection themes. If you are exploring on your own, self-guided options include in-gallery learning kiosks, an audio and/or family guides, and e-publications. If you learn best with an interpreter, join the Docent Tours, Curator-led tours, Panel discussions, and other public programs published in the Gallery Guide. Visit and enjoy the Gallery often!
You do! Although the AGW is the legal owner holding title to the work, the AGW Collection was built to serve as a public trust for you. Like a national park or any other heritage site, the Collection belongs to the community. The AGW’s role as a charitable organization is to hold the Collection in trust for all Canadians. It is part of Canada’s cultural heritage to be enjoyed and celebrated for generations to come.
Yes! The Collection is stored in special vaults on site at the AGW. These vaults meet international museum standards to control light, humidity, temperature and security. The AGW provides the best environment possible for preserving rare and fragile works of art while maximizing compact storage solutions. Each work of art must always have a home in storage, even when it is on display. Each artwork also has a number and a detailed record of its history. This way, the object location can be carefully tracked at all times.
The AGW Collection mainly concentrates on art of the modern era—the late 18th to 20th centuries. To offer a context for many of those works, however, the AGW has collected works from before and after this time. Identifying the earliest one is not simple because some older artworks are not dated precisely. Among these is an embroidered English tapestry estimated to be from the 1600s and Joos de Momper’s Village on a River—Treviso, estimated to have been created before the 1600s. These objects are believed to be among the Gallery’s oldest holdings.
The largest work is an installation by Spring Hurlbut called La Somnolence (1999). The work consists of 150 antique children's beds collected by the artist over many years in France, the United States and Canada. When installed it occupies several thousand square feet/metres. It is a hauntingly beautiful work that honours the memory of forgotten orphaned children in the 19th century.