Sunday, 15 April 2012

Afternoon at the National Gallery of Canada

We recently became members of the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, this modern building is the work of Moshe Safdie and was completed in 1988. I remember when the spot it occupies Nepean Point, a high cliff above the Outaouais river was just a park of wild grass, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau decided that the National Capital deserved a proper National Gallery building with architecture that would befit the important collections being shown. Prior to that the collections were housed in a old Lorne building in Ottawa on Elgin street, now demolished, a rather sad affair. The original National Gallery of Canada was created in 1880 by then Governor General of Canada, John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. It was housed at that time in the old Supreme Court building at the western gate of Parliament Hill at Bank and Wellington streets, that building was demolished in 1962. The Gallery then moved in 1913 to the Victoria Memorial Museum on Metcalfe street, known today as the Museum of Nature. Most of the collection are gifts from the Sutherland Family and the Vincent Massey Family and many other people. Some important acquisitions have also been made by the Gallery with great public howl despite the fact that it came from important known artist. There is that sad element in Ottawa in the popular press and amongst politicians of a certain stripe to be anti-culture no matter what. A few years ago the same popular press started a movement to bring Art in general and the collections in the museums to the lowest common denominator, the argument being that if the Museums wanted to make money, it seems it is always about money for some people, then the art presented cannot be intimidating. The public will not go if they do not know or understand what they are looking at. Luckily that idea did not catch on. One idea that did catch on and was well received was to propose to various social clubs that their members come to the museum and would be met by a docent who would present a few selected works, here people who had never been inside a museum were invited to come and see for themselves and at the same time have selected works explained to them. Participants went away happy and enjoyed their visits by all accounts, better it cost nothing.

The National Gallery has in its collection some of the most important works by Warhol and other contemporary artists, great Canadian and European artists. The Canadian Group of Seven paintings are my favourites. It is a very interesting museum to visit not only for its art collection but also for its architecture.
National Gallery of Canada on Nepean Point seen from Parliament Hill

The great hall of the Gallery, copies the Library of Parliament across on the other hill. All glass and granite.

I walked around the Gallery, looking at everything and getting myself re-acquainted with the museum. I had not been in 10 years. Many new pieces were on display. A very interesting installation was the Janet Cardiff, Forty Part Motet in the old Rideau Street Convent Chapel. When the Rideau Street Convent was destroyed the Chapel was saved by Friends of the Museum who raised enormous amounts of money to ensure that architectural treasure would not perish. It has been re-assembled inside the Gallery. Janet Cardiff arranged a series of speakers in the chapel, the impression if you stand in the middle of the chapel is that you are part of a singing choir, you hear people next to you breathing as they sing and you hear every voice of the choir. It is the most stunning effect, you are part of the choir not part of an audience listening.  Being in the Rideau Chapel to hear this is quite beautiful.

The other exhibit I enjoyed is entitled Monuments of Paris by Hubert Robert who was a landscape designer and decorator, great admirer of Giovanni Panini and Giovanni Battista Piranese, he went to Rome in 1754 to study art. He returned to Paris in 1765. Robert was appointed garden designer at Versailles. His tableau Monuments of Paris juxtaposes seven significant Parisian structures in an imaginary setting. It was first shown in 1789 in Paris, the composition shows Porte St-Denis erected in 1672 to commemorate the French Army's victories on the Rhine, directly facing the gate is an equestrian statue of Louis XIV erected in 1692, it was destroyed during the revolution in 1792. To the right the Fountain of the Innocents it was commissioned in 1549 in honour of King Henry II.  The Medici column  dedicated to Catherine Medici, wife of King Henry II. The panorama is obscured by the Eastern Facade of the Palais du Louvre built in 1665 and completed in 1672 when the Court moved to Versailles.
In the background is the Fountain of the Four Seasons 1736 and looming over the composition is the Church of St-Geneviève commissioned by Louis XV, the church was not quite completed in 1791 when the Revolution under the Assembly decided to dedicate the building to French national heroes and it became the Pantheon. Retrospectively this masterpiece appears as a tribute to the master builders of the Ancien Regime.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite Canadian Museum is the Museum of anthropology in Victoria British Columbia. just my cup of tea!