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The best Monet in the country

Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, exhibition curator

When I wrote Carol Podedworny, Director of the McMaster Museum of Art, about the 100 Masters exhibition, she asked senior curator Ihor Holubizky to assist in assembling a list of possible loans. Ihor had contributed essays to a number of WAG catalogues, and I met with him at McMaster in the early summer of 2012 to discuss possible loans for our centennial exhibition. Recalling the quick succession of notable European and Canadian acquisitions by the McMaster Museum after the Herman Levy Bequest in the 1980s, I was pleased to see several of these pictures on Ihor’s list.

I had hoped to borrow the Otto Dix portrait, but it had been promised to a retrospective exhibition. I also considered the early still-life painting by Vincent van Gogh, but given its fragile state and the fact that I had just secured the van Gogh Paris still life from the National Gallery of Canada, I turned to other artists represented in McMaster’s small but impressive collection of European paintings. At the top of the list was Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, by far the most beautiful of the Thames series pictures in Canada, and Gustave Caillebotte’s Voillers au mouillage sur la Seine, the only work by the Impressionist painter in a public Canadian collection.

On both our lists were the two panel paintings depicting The Man of Sorrows and The Mater Dolorosa by Aelbrecht Bouts, which were in outstanding condition and unmatched in Canadian collections. They were acquired in the early 1990s shortly after the National Gallery of Canada purchased two panels of the same subject attributed to the workshop of Dieric Bouts. The last work I chose from McMaster was George Romney’s double portrait of a father and son examining an écorché figure, which I thought was an appropriate work for a university with a good medical school.

The generosity of the McMaster Museum of Art, an outstanding university art museum with a reach far beyond the academic community, made a significant contribution to the European contingent in 100 Masters.

Claude Monet, French, 1840–1925, Waterloo Bridge, Effet de Soleil, 1903. Oil on canvas, 65.1 x 100 cm. Gift of Herman Levy Esq., O.B.E.;1984.007.0043. Photography by John Tamblyn. Lent by: McMaster Museum of Art, McMaster University, Hamilton

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