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Canadian Collection

About the AGO's Canadian Collection

The AGO has an outstanding collection of Canadian art, with a particular emphasis on the art of Toronto and Ontario. The Canadian Art department is responsible for all work from the earliest forms of human expression (that fall within current national boundaries) to 1985, including First Nations and Inuit. The Thomson Collection of Canadian art elevates the AGO’s holdings, particularly in its presentation of historic First Nation's art of the Pacific Northwest alongside works by Cornelius Krieghoff, Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven and Emily Carr, David Milne, Paul Emile Borduas, William Kurelek and Alex Colville. Many important Canadian works are also part of the AGO's Photography and Prints and Drawings collections.

The AGO has distinguished itself by establishing one of the premier collections of work by Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven (and their contemporaries), a Canadian art movement that primarily emphasized the landscape, both natural and featuring resource industries. The Group of Seven first exhibited together in 1920 (at the Art Gallery of Toronto, now Ontario) and their work continues to influence national identity. Complementing this strength is an impressive group of paintings from the Victorian period, works by Canadian artists influenced by French academic and modernist painting, early Quebec art, pre-Confederation watercolours, Canadian modernism and abstraction, and sculpture from all periods, including the most comprehensive collection of sculptures by Frances Loring and Florence Wyle.

In addition to housing the David Milne Study Centre, the AGO is developing a reputation as the primary centre of research and study for an increasing number of artists such as Jack Bush, Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe, Paterson Ewen, Betty Goodwin, Gershon Iskowitz, Christiane Pflug, Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland, among others. Over the past decade, improving the AGO's holdings of work by women artists has been a priority.

One of the distinguishing features of the Canadian Collection is arguably the world’s most important collection of contemporary Inuit art, with an emphasis on work produced in Canada since 1948. Among the more than 5,000 objects in the Gallery’s holdings are some 2,800 sculptures, 1,300 prints, 700 drawings and a selection of wall hangings. The AGO’s current focus is on new works, especially those that express the current state of affairs in the far North. Manasie Akpaliapik's large whalebone, ivory, stone, antler, baleen and horn sculpture Respecting the Circle is consistently one of the most popular works on display at the AGO.

The Canadian department is also actively expanding the scope of its collection to include historical First Nations art. Exemplary objects include an Anishnaabe Gunstock Club (anonymous, early 1800s), which in 2002 became the AGO’s first major acquisition of Ontario’s First Nations heritage, a selection of argillite poles by Haida master carver Charles Edenshaw (c.1839-1920), and the argillite and ivory Sea Captain (Haida, anonymous, circa 1840), acquired in 2008. Acquiring major works by contemporary First Nations artists is a critical focus as is ensuring that the collection and program reflect the historical diversity of Canadian society.

The Thomson Collection of Canadian Paintings and First Nations Objects

Learn more about this unparalleled collection comprising some 700 works of art and distinguished by its remarkable breadth, the high quality of the individual works and the rarity of many of its objects

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