On Saturday, October 6, the ROM unveils its new Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada to the public as part of the ROM's Fall 2007 A Season of Canada. The loft-like, light-filled gallery reshapes the way Canada is presented at the ROM, showcasing the country's best collection of early Canadiana. Symbols, emblems, and images of Canada and what they suggest about changing ideas of Canadian identities play a key role in this vibrant permanent gallery, the latest to open in the historic Queen's Park building as part of Renaissance ROM.
"With this beautifully restored space in the Weston Family Wing, the Museum continues the story of early Canada, its people, and the artistic quality of its decorative and pictorial arts," says ROM director and CEO William Thorsell. "And finally the ROM is able to display its growing contemporary collection as well."
From the early years of European settlement--with broad representation prior to 1850--to the beginnings of the modern industrial era, the gallery mainly reflects Canada's French and British cultural heritage. The approximately 560 artifacts focus on the pictorial and decorative arts to disclose select aspects of early Canadian social, economic, political, ethnic, religious, and even personal history.
While the ROM's collection includes modern design, historical artifacts, church sculpture, and furniture from New France, Lower Canada (Quebec), and Upper Canada (Ontario) inspired by the styles of France and England, it is richest in the historical decorative and pictorial arts. A thematically diverse collection of pictorial arts--landscapes, portraits, genre, and marine paintings--is the most significant of the ROM's early Canadiana. The decorative arts collection of furniture, ceramics, silver, and glass helps visitors understand how Canadians lived and where they came from, the evolving nature of Canadian identity and Canadian-ness, and the on-going contributions of successive generations of immigrants. "The ROM's early Canadian decorative arts are a treasure unequalled anywhere," says Ross Fox, associate curator of Early Canadian Decorative Arts. "The gallery reflects this richness in a re-thought approach. Artifacts serve as narrow windows into a past that survives only in fragments. The goal is to encourage visitors to envision aspects of the past for themselves."
A wall of landscapes and portraits encourages visitors to reflect on the significance of both land and individuals in shaping their understanding of Canadian identity and history. Arlene Gehmacher, curator of Canadian Paintings, Prints, and Drawings, says, "The paintings in the Canadian collection, now beautifully restored, have usually been appreciated for their documentary aspects as well as their narrative content--and as a way to illustrate the history of Canada. Their new organization and presentation also allow them to be appreciated on their own, as works communicating ideas of Canadian society, history, or identity."
Canadian life during the 18th and 19th centuries--both real and imagined--is reflected in portraits, scenes of social life, and numerous views of Canada from land and sea. "Portraits," says Gehmacher, "are more than a physical likeness of a sitter. Comportment, attire, setting, and attributes can indicate an individual's profession, social status, or personal accomplishments at a given moment in time."
While the gallery focuses mainly on Canada's colonial past, modern Canadian furniture and decorative arts are also displayed for the first time, reflecting a new direction in building the Museum's collections. In the contemporary section a featured piece is a stunning red sofa by Cairo-born, Canadian-raised contemporary designer Karim Rashid, acquired specifically for this exhibit. Also in this area is a display of commercial artwork by Rex Woods, one of Canada's premier illustrators.
Gallery highlights include a 19th-century wooden wine cellaret with carved beaver and maple leaf motifs; contemporary Canadian artist Jin-me Yoon's thought-provoking Souvenirs of Self, a large chromogenic print on Plexiglas; and the iconic historical painting The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (1776 with studio assistants; retouched in 1806). …