The National Gallery of Canada is located in Ottawa, the country’s capital. As one of Canada’s premier galleries, it houses approximately 65,000 works of art. The museum features Canadian, Native and Inuit artwork, American and European paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, as well as modern and contemporary art and photographs. Here is a mixed sample of 10 remarkable works of art that call the National Gallery home.
Born in Toronto, Joyce Wieland (1930–1998) was an experimental filmmaker and mixed media artist. In 1971, her exhibition called True Patriot Love was the first solo exhibition by a living female Canadian artist shown at the National Gallery of Canada. Among other accolades, she received the Order of Canada in 1982 and the Visual Arts Award via the Toronto Arts Foundation in 1987. Cooling Room II is a multimedia piece named for the words printed on the discarded boxes that Wieland used to make 3D collections of found objects. Drawing on her film animation background, she divided each box like the frames of a film, creating a series of events that the viewer can, in turn, construct into a story. The objects indicate travel, love, tragedy, and time passing, and the lipstick on the rims of the cups implies a female perspective.
Annie Pootoogook (1969–2016) was a Canadian Inuk artist known for her ink-and-crayon depictions of life in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. She came from a family of artists: her mother, Napachie Pootoogook, was a draftsperson, and her father, Eegyvudluk Pootoogook, was a stone sculptor and printmaker. Her grandmother was the graphic artist Pitseolak Ashoona. Working within the traditional Inuit tradition of “sulijik,” which translates literally as “it is true,” Pootoogook’s drawings often juxtaposed intimate family moments with scenes of alcoholism and violence. Cape Dorset Freezer depicts a co-op store, situated in the center of Cape Dorset. A community hub, the store functions as both a place to hang out and as a provider of essential supplies and services to the remote northern community.
Often remembered in terms of her connection to the infamous Group of Seven, the work of Emily Carr (1871–1945) has become iconic to the Canadian artistic imagination. Deeply inspired by the landscapes of the west coast, much of her artwork explores the trees and forests of British Columbia and the coastal horizons. The National Gallery holds a large collection of her paintings.
Another prominent Canadian artist who is connected with the Group of Seven and considered to have had a strong influence on them, Tom Thomson (1877–1917) is famous for his paintings of Ontario’s landscapes. The Jack Pine is one of his most well-known works. He dedicated his life to preserving the wilderness, working as a ranger and guide in Algonquin Park before drowning under mysterious circumstances in Canoe Lake.
English-American painter Benjamin West (1738–1820) is remembered for his large-scale depictions of historical scenes. The most famous of these works remains The Death of General Wolfe, a striking oil on canvas painting that represents the deathbed of General James Wolfe at the 1759 Battle of Quebec during the French and Indian War (the North American setting of the Seven Years’ War). He portrays a dramatic and figurative representation of Wolfe’s death, making the General appear as a hero who perished for the British cause.
Lucius Richard O’Brien (1832–1899) was an influential early Canadian landscape artist. Born in Upper Canada, which would later become Ontario, he became deeply involved in the development and formalization of the art community as Canada achieved nation status in 1867. The scene of his most famous painting, Sunrise on the Saguenay, Cape Trinity, portrays a site located about 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) down the Saguenay River from where it connects with the St. Lawrence at Tadoussac, downriver from Quebec City. This site had already become representative of Canada’s majestic landscapes, and his choice to paint the scene in the poetic golden light of sunrise suggests the bright promise of the new country. It was among the group of paintings that formed the core collection of the newly established National Gallery of Canada.
Born in Toronto, Henrietta Shore (1880–1963) spent much of her life in California. Shore established a reputation as a promising painter for herself early in her career, as part of the Canadian art community. She taught art classes, had solo shows at Toronto galleries, and was involved with group exhibitions in Paris, London, and Liverpool. In 1913, she moved from Toronto to Los Angeles, where she became part of an influential group of early West Coast modernists and worked under the mentorship of Robert Henri. Later, her work was shown alongside Georgia O’Keeffe‘s, and she was encouraged by the photographer Edward Weston. Although she died in obscurity, her work has recently garnered the recognition that it deserves.
Prudence Heward (1896–1947) was born into an artistic family in Montreal. Known for her figure paintings, she one of a small set of female artists who were active in Montreal between the World Wars. Her paintings of strong and complex women defied conventional depictions of female physical and psychological passivity. Rollande is an example of this bold work. A contemporary of the Group of Seven, Heward went on to sketch excursions with them along the Saint Lawrence River and produced a substantial body of landscape artwork in addition to her portraits.
The National Gallery carries a wide variety of indigenous art, ranging from sketches to sculptures, paintings, and beadwork objects. In particular, Daphne Odjig (1919–2016) drew from her mixed Potawatomi-Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) and English background. Working with these distinct artistic traditions, she created intricate paintings exploring themes of spirituality, human suffering, and the Anishinaabe concept of the circle of life. Infinite Cycle portrays the funeral of Odjig’s first husband. Family members are shown in black, while the surrounding white human-like forms depict ancestral spirits.
The Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) was a leading member of the Vienna Secession movement, an artistic collective that focused on exploring art beyond the boundaries of academic tradition. In his murals, sketches, and paintings, Klimt’s most recurring subject was the female body. Often with strong erotic undertones, his work was controversial during his lifetime at the turn of the century. Hope I is a bold depiction of pregnancy, with darker undertones in the background.