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Canadian AGH Collection Highlights

1) William Blair Bruce
With The Phantom Hunter, Hamilton-born painter William Blair Bruce carved a place for himself in Canadian art and art history. Inspired by C.D. Shanly's poem "The Walker of the Snow," in which a hunter meets his death by freezing, the work casts a northern tale in captivating and memorable terms. Painted in France following a brief sojourn in Hamilton, the work was accepted for the 1888 Paris Salon, where the artist hoped to make a "Canadian" mark on the international audience. While the painting did not receive the attention abroad Bruce had hoped for, its subsequent destiny in Canada has established Bruce as one of this country's most important late nineteenth-century painters. The haunting image of the solitary trapper abandoned in the barren snowscape has become a metaphor of individual struggle as well as a pictorial touchstone of northern identity.
2) Maurice Cullen
Logging in Winter, Beaupré is one of Maurice Cullen's most important and enduring canvases. Painted in the region of Côte-de-Beaupré, north of Quebec City in the winter of 1896, following the artist's return from France the previous year, the canvas adapts several Impressionist techniques to the Canadian landscape. Primarily a study of light and shadow on the snow-covered landscape, the canvas' importance is in part due to the remarkable way in which paint and color have been used to achieve such luminous effects. This is a painter's painting and its visual power and modernity were cited by the next generation of artists who saw in Cullen's work a new way of depicting the Canadian landscape. His impact on the Group of Seven was significant; A.Y. Jackson claimed Cullen as a teacher to the Group while Arthur Lismer credited the senior painter with teaching him how to paint snow. As such, Logging in Winter, Beaupré, can be seen as a pivotal work in the development of Canadian painting.
3) Alex Colville
Horse and Train is arguably Alex Colville's most recognized and celebrated work. Acquired by the Art Gallery of Hamilton in 1957, three years after it was painted, the work has - over the course of a half-century - ascended to icon status. It is inspired by two lines from the 1949 poem "Dedication to Mary Campbell," by the South African poet Roy Campbell: "Against a regiment I oppose a brain / And a dark horse against an armoured train."
This kernel provided Colville with the raw materials necessary to create a composition that transcends time and place and lingers long after our first encounter with the work. Is this because Colville asks questions but offers no answers? Or is it that his paintings are points of departure, taking us on a journey, prompting us to reconcile the real and the imaginary, the intuitive and the rational? As a static, suspended image that unfolds over time - Horse and Train persists. Spare, direct, lucid, and highly controlled, the painting confronts our sense of reason: the moment of recognition comes quickly and unexpectedly. In our mind's eye we are tempted to press 'play', eager to re-engage the drama unfolding before us in order to see how the story unfolds, to exhale. Or perhaps there is no logical conclusion or resolution, maybe this highly charged, anticipatory moment is an end in itself - the moral of the story. With Horse and Train, Colville brings us to a precipice and leaves us there to make sense of the predicament.




    Irving Zucker
Sculpture Garden

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