European gems in Hamilton

Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, exhibition curator

The trips to Hamilton for the 100 Masters project were split between the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the McMaster Museum of Art, two institutions I was counting on to augment the European and American works in the exhibition.

The rich European holdings at the AGH, particularly nineteenth-century painting and sculpture, are well known, and this was reflected in the initial list that Director Louise Dompierre had prepared for me. Touring the galleries and vaults with Tobi Bruce, Chief Curator of the AGH, we focused on the European and American pictures, singling out easel paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour, Albert Marquet, Felix Vallotton, and Rockwell Kent. While it was not the plan to borrow Canadian works from the AGH, I did inquire about two well-known paintings from the collection—William Blair Bruce’s The Phantom Hunter and Alex Colville’s Horse and Train. However, neither was available due to prior loan commitments and conservation issues.

At the end of the tour, Tobi showed me Charles Comfort’s The Dreamer, painted in 1929 and depicting an architect friend in a rather unconventional composition and choice of palette. In a way, I was drawn to the artist’s connection to Winnipeg (he settled in the city with his family in 1912 and lived there until 1925, studying at the Winnipeg School of Art) and his later post as director of the National Gallery of Canada. However, it was the bold Modernism of the large canvas that convinced me it should be in the exhibition.

I also looked at several works by Prudence Heward, including Girl under a Tree, which features a female nude in a lush landscape setting, but I was set on borrowing the artist’s Sisters of Rural Quebec from the Art Gallery of Windsor. I didn’t manage to get to Windsor on this trip east, but was grateful for Drector Catharine Mastin’s affirmation that I had selected the right Heward. Measuring over a metre and a half in height, it is a monumental work and one of the artist’s most notable portraits.

Henri Fantin-Latour, French, 1836–1904, Le jeune Fitz-James (Henri Fitz-James), 1869. Oil on canvas,
49.6 x 40.6 cm. Gift of H.S. Southam, Esq., C.M.G., LL.D., 1948, 66.77.3. Lent by: Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton


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