Saturday, 21 January 2012

Art in the National Gallery of Canada

My daughter, the Bean, loves art but asking her to spend three or four hours with me at the National Gallery would be a test even for the most patient kid.  So, I look for ways to make our visits more interesting for her.  This past summer, we invaded the gallery wielding notebooks and pens with a mission:  identify our five favourite pieces of art.  Here are our results:

The Bean:

  1. Italian Cabinet (1610-1615):  A beautiful piece inlaid with stone, metal and exotic wood.
  2. Canoe Paddles:  A pair of beautiful maple canoe paddles elaborately carved from 1880.
  3. Nunali (Jackoposie Oopakak, 2003):  This is a stunningly carved Inuit sculpture with a caribou head carved from serpentine with hunting scenes and snippets of daily life carved into a rack of caribou antlers.
  4. Tabernacle (Paul Jourdain, c. 1741):    A beautiful carved wood tabernacle that graced the St. Antoine de Longueil church near Montreal.
  5. Apron Kwaka'waka:  A lovely Aboriginal beaded apron.

I'm interested in why the Bean picked, with one exception, craft items.  When asked, she shrugs amd says "because they're cool.  Good enough, I guess.


  1. Kitchen Door and Esther (Christiane Pflug, 1965):  I love this painting for its pure sentimentality.  Something I enjoy doing is surreptitiously watching my daughter from afar when she is intent on some task - writing, reading, drawing.  This painting reminds me of that.
  2. To Prince Edward Island (Alex Colville, 1965):  This is an iconic Canadian painting and I am nothing if not Canadian.  I know realist paintings are hopelessly out of fashion among the cognescenti, but they can stick it in their ears.
  3. Nunali (Jackoposie Oopakak, 2003):  See above.  This is the first sculpture you see when you walk through the doors of the Indigenous Gallery.  It impresses in its scale and the detail and skillfulness of the carving and highlights an important element of tradition of Canada's Northern Indigenous people.
  4. Eve, the Serpent and Death (Hans Baldung, c. 1510):  I love the macabre and grotesque Death juxtoposed with the coquettish Eve.
  5. Iris (Vincent Van Gogh, 1889):  I am crazy about Van Gogh.  Hard to believe this guy was depressed with his wildly colourful and joyful paintings thick with impasto.

If anybody is ever in Ottawa I highly recommend the National Gallery.  They have a pretty good collection and the building itself is worth the price of admission.  If you're travelling wth children, I recommend finding a way to engage them, otherwise, you'll end up with a lot of impatient whining.  I suggest them picking their five favourite pieces, or a favourite from each themed gallery, or an art scavenger hunt - find a painting with an insect in it, a motorcycle in it, etc.  You can reasearch these things on the National Gallery website.  The Gallery also has special activities for kids on certain days through its Artissimo program.


  1. Next time u want to go tell Aleks the art gallery is one of her favorite things to do!

    1. Would love to take the delightful Ms. Aleks sometime! I was actually hoping to take a day trip to Montreal sometime and go to the Mtl. MFA - maybe some of you would like to join me (and maybe Lena).

  2. I have no idea why I never made it to the National Gallery when I was living in Ottawa. I guess I'll have to go back sometime.

    1. If you're ever in town, I would recommend it. It still pales when compared to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or even the Boston MFA, but stilla good collection.

  3. One of my faves is back on display - the 40 Part Motet by Janet Cardiff. It is not a painting or a sculpture, it is more modern in approach than that. It is on display in the Rideau Chapel. The artist recorded 40 voices singing a Motet. They are then played back over 40 individual speakers in a circle. The closer you get to an individual speaker, the more you hear the individual voice singing its part. The more you go towards the centre, the more it becomes about the choral sound. It is a sublime experience, particularly in the Chapel setting. We plan to head there soon because they'll only have it on display until the 25th of March.

    1. Thanks, Claude. I have to admit, I seldom take the time to see these types of exhibits, but this one sounds intriguing and worth visiting before it closes.