It was a busy week at the National Gallery of Canada, I attended several meetings with fellow docents, continued to plan the 24 lectures I am organizing for the new Season starting in September, I attended a staff meeting before the opening of the retrospective on Alex Colville who died in 2013. His daughter Ann was present and she said words about her parents who were married for 70 years and died within 7 months of each other, it was very touching and wonderful. Looking at his painting they are very personal, about every day life but there is also in some of them a certain tension.
Colville loved the movie ” No country for old men” a modern horror story. Some of his paintings have a gun resting on a table, it is just a gun but it is unnerving to just see it on a table and it makes you wonder what could happen. It is that tension that attracts your eye. Other paintings are of a couple, mostly him and his wife Rhoda in everyday situation. He was also a War Artist during the Second World War. He was at the Bergen Belsen Camp when it was liberated and those experiences haunted him though has his daughter said he never spoke much about it. There is also his love of animals and how he feels about them, he had many dogs and believed in their innate goodness. Those qualities of evil or deceit so frequent in humans is absent in animals unless they are taught. A very interesting man, though a social conservative and he did live in a small University town most of his life he was well connected to the world. The show is very well curated by Andrew Hunter of the Art Gallery of Ontario and Adam Welch of the National Gallery of Canada.
The artist Mary Pratt also gave a lecture on Thursday night, she worked with Colville, she is currently featured at the museum, with her paintings of Erotic Jellies, very nice.
I also presented two works of art, one being the Head of an Old women by Pierre Paul Rubens. I was startled by a visitor who was listening to my presentation and when I mentioned that the Dutch word for such a generic painting was Tronie, the lady told me that she was from the Netherlands and spoke fluent Dutch, she said she had never heard the word. I was puzzled because I was sure I had read this description and was wondering if I might have made a mistake in my understanding. I looked it up and the word Tronie does exist but it is a 16th century Dutch word. Used by the artists of the time to describe a generic head or a head or face which cannot be identified with any one in particular or something grotesque. So I will have to specify that next time in my presentation. I like presenting this painting by Rubens because it leads into how painters like him worked and what was involved in their trade at the time.
We are also having a Monet exhibit in September about 14 of his paintings, one in particular Le Pont de Bois painted in 1872 shows a bridge being re-built across the Seine River near Paris after the destruction of the original one during the Franco-Prussian War. This painting was said to be on loan to us by an anonymous benefactor.
It turns out that the anonymous person is Josef Straus owner of JDS Uniphase, he bought the painting at Sotheby’s in London in June 2013 for about $11 million dollars. The proceeds of that sale were donated to UNICEF by the Estate of the previous owner Gustav Rau.
Straus is a longtime benefactor of the National Gallery of Canada.