Art Gallery of Ontario and the Canadian Art Collection

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The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) completed a four year renovation project in 2008. I was still living in Toronto when the Franky Gehry-designed redevelopment plan was completed but I did not have the chance to visit the gallery until now. I definitely missed a lot since the AGO reopened its doors four years ago.

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The AGO is located in the Grange Park neighbourhood, between the financial district and Chinatown in downtown Toronto. Gehry designed the most recent expansion and the renowned Canadian architect lived in the neighbourhood as a child. As one of the largest art galleries in North America, it holds the largest collection of Canadian art works which includes the Group of Seven, David Milne, the Native Canadian artist Norval Morrisseau, and Cornelius Krieghoff, as part of their permanent collection.

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Lawren Harris, Beaver Swamp Algoma, oil painting (1920)

I learned about these Canadian artists as a high school student so viewing the works by the Group of Seven, Milne, Morrisseau, and Kreighoff brings a nostalgic element to the visit. One of my favourite Group of Seven (active 1919 to 1932) artists is Lawren Harris (1885–1970), whose works of the Canadian landscape is characterized by bold brushstrokes, the study of light and colours, and bright colours reminiscent of the European Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. This type of style is particular to the Group of Seven whose work focuses much on the Algonquin Park region of northern Ontario.

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Lawren Harris, Lake And Mountains, oil paint (1928)

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David Milne, circa 1922

Another prominent Canadian artist is David Milne (1882-1953) who served as a war artist during World War I. However, Milne’s work focuses on landscapes including the same Algonquin Park area as the Group of Seven. But unlike the Group of Seven, Milne’s landscape works are decorative in style with a focus on line and texture. Milne’s mediums of choice are oil paints and watercolour, as well as printmaking.

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Norval Morrisseau, Man Changes into Thunderbird, Giclee Print (1977)

Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007) is arguably the most famous Native Canadian artist. The artist, part of the Anishinaabeg or Anishinabek tribe (also known as the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Algonquin peoples), depicts a range of subjects such as his people’s legends, spirituality, and mysticism. Morrisseau, a self-taught artist, founded the Woodlands School of Canadian art.

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Cornelius Krieghoff, The Woodcutter, oil on cardboard (1857)

Cornelius Krieghoff is an Amsterdam-born Canadian painter who immigrated to the Canadian province of Québec around 1846. Krieghoff settled in the city of Montréal and lived amongst the French Canadian population of Canada, while also befriending the Mohawk tribe of Native Canadians living adjacent to the French Canadians.

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Cornelius Krieghoff, Breaking up of a Country Ball in Canada, Early Morning (The Morning after a Merrymaking in Lower Canada), oil on canvas (1857)

Krieghoff’s works depict the early Canadian settlers as jolly, drunken, joie de vivre characters thrashing in the snow, falling off of sleds, and pouncing out of saloons. Krieghoff also painted depictions of the Native Canadian population living in their reservations and engaging in traditional activities. His works have been duplicated by Canada Post for a series of Canadian stamps in 1972 and 2000.

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Cornelius Krieghoff, Chippewas on Lake Superior, oil on cardboard (1860)

A visit to the gallery remains incomplete without visiting the chic café located on the second floor. The café encompasses the facade of the gallery, and provides a partially panoramic view of Dundas street. Prices are great too; a slice of tiramisu and fancy bottled water rings under five dollars.

The AGO is closed on Mondays, but during regular hours is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Check the visiting hours during the holiday season for changes to the regular schedule.

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