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Becoming Modern: The Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s Canadian Collection 

April 8, 2024May 1, 2025

The history of Canadian art from the late 19th century until at least the 1970s reflects the process of a rather conservative art scene embracing – with wildly varying degrees of enthusiasm – the dominant art trend of the day: Modernism. The enthusiasms of the art centres of Paris, London, and New York may have come to Canada with a delay of decades, but come they did, and from the late 19th century through the turn of the 20th Canadian artists struggled to present these new ideas in the face of widespread public indifference and, indeed, outright hostility.  

Modernism, of course, evolved over time in many different places. France’s Barbizon school led directly to the Realism of Courbet and Manet, which in turn led to French Impressionism and global Postimpressionism. All of these movements had impacts on Canadian artists. Cubism and Abstraction were widely accepted as dominant art styles in Europe by the early 1920s, but it took until the 1950s for non-representational art to be firmly established in Canada. Many members of each succeeding generation of artists shared a desire to acknowledge and respond to the new movements from Europe (and post-Second World War, from New York), while retaining their Canadian subject matter and identity.  

That struggle is portrayed in Becoming Modern: The Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s Canadian Collection, which highlights the gallery’s holdings of some of Canada’s most influential painters, including Cornelius Krieghoff, J. W. Morrice, Emily Carr, Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven, David Milne, Alfred Pellan, Goodridge Roberts, Paul Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alex Colville, Mary Pratt, Rita Letendre, Guido Molinari, and many more. Becoming Modern: The Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s Canadian Collection far from definitive, it depicts a collection that is still growing, building on the remarkable gift of art from Lord Beaverbrook in 1959. That growth is reflected in a section of recent acquisitions that will turn over frequently as the collection expands. The first new acquisitions highlighted include works by Alex Janvier, Yvon Gallant, Cal Lane, and Ed Burtynsky. Becoming Modern tells a story of Canada’s growth towards Modernism, an ongoing journey that continues to this day. 

Curated by Ray Cronin and Organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.