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In Focus: A Collector's History
Selections from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art
Artists: Molly Lamb Bobak, Frank Carmichael, Emily Carr, A.J. Casson, Allan Collier, Maurice Cullen, L.L. FitzGerald, Bruce Garner, Lawren S. Harris, Robert Harris, Arthur Lismer, Henri Masson, Doris McCarthy, Norval Morrisseau, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Marian Scott, Gordon Smith, Harold Town
The Firestone Collection of Canadian Art was built upon O.J. and Isobel Firestone’s mission to educate the public about the merit of Canadian art. In Focus: A Collector's History explores the Firestones’ drive to form an inclusive collection representing a diverse range of Canadian art styles, geographic regions, time periods and artists.
As such, it probes their motivations for acquiring works and considers the personal nature of this private art collection. In the Ontario Heritage Foundation’s 1978 publication on the Collection, O.J. Firestone’s essay catalogues the artists’ work geographically, stylistically and chronologically, outlining three critical periods in twentieth century Canadian art history: 1867-1914, 1919-1939, and 1945-1978. In the spirit of Firestone’s categorical method, this exhibition presents key works from the Collection within four sections.
The first section presents some of the early Euro-Canadian artworks in the Collection. A period dominated by landscapes of Canadian scenery emulating European trends, it was also important at this time for Canadian artists to go abroad for artistic training and to broaden their experience. The small number of these historical works in the Collection in contrast to those contemporary to the time the Firestones were collecting reveals their main focus of purchasing work by living Canadian artists. The second section highlights the work of the Group of Seven painters. Captivated by the Group’s nationalist vision of the Canadian landscape, their paintings and drawings represent nearly half of the 1,600 works in the Collection. The third section demonstrates that the Firestones also collected cityscapes, landscapes and figural works by Canadian artists influenced by a variety of modernist techniques, from Surrealism to Expressionism. Finally, the fourth section of this exhibition displays some essential pieces from the Collection’s significant holding of work by Canadian abstract artists created after 1945, representing the abstract movements occurring in every major city in the country at the time.
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