Ontario Society of Artists (OSA) and the Government of Ontario Art Collection: The Final Purchases - Page Banner

Table of Contents


By 1912, several of the initiatives with which the OSA had for so long concerned itself began to bear fruit. The establishment of a permanent art gallery had become possible with the bequest by Mrs. Goldwin Smith, on her death in 1909, of her home, The Grange, which became the Art Museum of Toronto.

Photo: The Grange, Toronto, [ca. 1908]
The Grange, Toronto, [ca. 1908]
C. G. Begg
William H. Hammond fonds
Lantern Slide
Reference Code: F 4436-0-0-0-125
Archives of Ontario, I0021929

The addition of new galleries to the north of the old house further expanded the Museum. They officially opened on April 4, 1918 with many OSA members in attendance.

Newspaper: Ontario Society Members at the Opening of the Art Museum of Toronto, April 4, 1918
Click to see a larger image (428K)
Ontario Society Members at the Opening of the Art Museum of Toronto, April 4, 1918
The Toronto Star Weekly, April 20, 1918
Reference Code: F 1140-8
Archives of Ontario


Interior Gallery of the Art Museum of Toronto opened April 4, 1918
Click to see a larger image (85K)
Interior Gallery of the Art Museum of
Toronto opened April 4, 1918
The Toronto Star Weekly, April 20, 1918
Ontario Society of Artists fonds
Reference Code: F 1140-8
Archives of Ontario

Also in 1912, the Central Ontario School of Art and Design was granted a charter by the provincial government for the establishment of an art college.

With the endowment of a large grant, the school was totally reorganized and renamed the Ontario College of Art. Classes at the new college were held in the Normal School Building on Gould Street and George Reid was appointed its first Principal.

While all these positive initiatives were taking place, however, the OSA received an unexpected communication from Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Education concerning the annual grant. The Society was told that the agreement governing the display of member works in the Provincial Art Gallery in the Educational Museum was to be annulled before the end of the year. This annulment would also apply to the $800 grant which would no longer be provided by the government. Although no particular reason was given for this sudden decision, the closing paragraph of the government’s letter to the Society revealed that:

“The minister intends to reconsider the whole question of recognizing the works of the artists of the Province; but, before coming to a conclusion, he will consult representatives of your Society, as well as of others that are specially interested in the subject.”

Photo: George A. Reid at home, October 25, 1907
Click to see a larger image (118K)
George A. Reid at home, October 25, 1907
M. O. Hammond
Black and white negative
Reference Code: F 1075-16-0-0-9
Archives of Ontario, I0014432

In the meantime, the government had also made the decision to close the picture galleries in the Educational Museum. With the closure the OSA purchases (along with the artworks amassed by Egerton Ryerson over 50 years before) were distributed among the province’s six Normal Schools (for teacher training). A number of factors could have influenced the minister in making this decision, not the least of which may have been the ongoing discord that seemed to mark the relationship between the government and the Society. Another factor may have been the government’s support for new institutions that broadened the opportunity for the public display of artwork with the establishment of the new Art Museum of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum in 1912.

The cancellation of the government’s arrangement with the Society did not end the art purchases however. For the years 1913 and 1914 an additional twenty-three paintings were selected by a special committee struck by the Minister of Education. The paintings were chosen from the OSA annual exhibitions of 1913 and 1914 and from the Canadian Art Club exhibition of 1913. These works were also distributed among the province’s Normal Schools.

Although only six of these paintings remain in the collection today, they include a very fine winter scene, The River Magog by Marc A. Suzor-Côté, Arthur Lismer’s, The Clearing and Florence Carlyle’s, The Threshold.

Watercolour: Bonsecours Church and Market, 1913
Click to see a larger image (195K)
Bonsecours Church and Market, 1913
William Brymner, OSA
Watercolour on cardboard
This work was purchased by the Government of Ontario
from the 41st annual OSA Exhibition, 1913
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 622084


Oil on canvas: The River Magog, 1913
Click to see a larger image (187K)
The River Magog, 1913
Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Côté, OSA
Oil on canvas
This work was purchased by the Government of Ontario
from the 42nd annual OSA Exhibition, 1914
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 622109

Oil on canvas: The Clearing, 1913
Click to see a larger image (101K)
The Clearing, 1913
Arthur Lismer, OSA
Oil on canvas
This work was purchased by the Government of Ontario
from the 41st annual OSA Exhibition, 1913
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 622110

Oil on canvas: The Threshold, 1913
Click to see a larger image (131K)
The Threshold, 1913
Florence Carlyle, OSA
Oil on canvas
This work was purchased by the Government of Ontario
from the 41st annual OSA Exhibition, 1913
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 623839


Oil on canvas: The Old Town, Brittany, Night Effect, 1913
Click to see a larger image (110K)
The Old Town, Brittany, Night Effect, 1913
William Edwin Atkinson, OSA
Oil on canvas
This work was purchased by the Government of Ontario
from the 41st annual OSA Exhibition, 1913
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 622038

Oil on canvas: Roses, [n.d.]
Click to see a larger image (86K)
Roses, [n.d.]
Mary Augusta Hiester Reid, OSA
Oil on canvas
This work was purchased by the Government of Ontario
from the 42nd annual OSA Exhibition, 1914
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 623358

With the purchases of 1914, the government’s program of art acquisitions from the OSA came to an end. While it may have been motivated by the changing priorities of the war years, the reason for the cessation of the purchasing program is unknown. Nevertheless, a total of 167 works by over 60 artists had been acquired by the government.

Unfortunately, with the distribution to the Normal Schools, few records were kept and over the ensuing years the whereabouts of many of the works has become unknown. Some paintings were no doubt lost or discarded. Some were known to have been destroyed, including many at the Hamilton Normal School which suffered a fire in 1953.





Click to see a larger image (115K)
Catalogue frontispiece for the OSA 42nd Annual Exhibition held at the Art Museum of Toronto, Public Reference Library, College Street, Toronto
March 14 – April 11, 1914
Ontario Society of Artists fonds
Reference Code: F 1140-2260
Archives of Ontario

Catalogue frontispiece for the OSA 42nd Annual Exhibition held at the Art Museum of Toronto

The Normal Schools were renamed teachers’ colleges in 1953 and in the late 1970s these colleges were absorbed by university faculties of education. While some of the existing artworks were returned to the government at this time, others were donated to the province’s public institutions. Beneficiaries included Nipissing University College (now University) in North Bay and the Art Gallery of Peterborough. In 1972 a particularly significant gift of artworks was made by the Ontario government to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Of the twenty-one works donated, eight had been purchased from the OSA exhibitions. These included Northern Lake by Tom Thomson, Lords of the Forest by Lucius O’Brien, Morning Shadows by J. E. H. MacDonald and The Tiff by Florence Carlyle.

Only 43 of the original OSA purchases are known to be in the collection today. The majority of these are hanging on public display in the halls of the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park.

Photo: A Contemporary View of the Ontario Legislature, Queen's Park, Toronto showing a selection of the artworks, 2003
Click to see a larger image (378K)
A Contemporary View of the Ontario Legislature, Queen's Park, Toronto showing a selection of the artworks purchased by the Government of Ontario from the Ontario Society of Artists, 1875 -1914.
Photographed by the Archives of Ontario, 2003

 

Taken as a whole, the artworks acquired by the government during this period span almost 40 years of Canadian art history. They reflect the evolving nature and growing sophistication of the province’s cultural activity. They reveal also the role women artists came to play in Ontario’s artistic life. Beginning around the turn of the 20th century women sought the same level of training and experience in European schools and capitals as their male counterparts. Although admitted to the Society from its early days (but not allowed to vote at meetings), participation by women artists gradually increased and between 1875 and 1914 membership by female artists had risen from two to nine.

Photo: Florence Carlyle, [before 1924]
Florence Carlyle, [before 1924]
M. O. Hammond
Black and white
Reference Code: F 1075-12-0-0-65
Archives of Ontario, I0007832

Photo: Mary Augusta Hiester Reid, [ca. 1900]
Mary Augusta Hiester Reid, [ca. 1900]
Photographer unknown
Black and white print
Ontario Society of Artists fonds
Reference Code: F 1140-7-0-1
Archives of Ontario, I0010411

A number of works by future members of the Group of Seven were also acquired. Had the program not ceased it is quite possible that works exemplifying a Canadian rather than a European tradition would have come to dominate the collection.

Today, the Ontario Society of Artists has a membership of almost 200 artists. It continues to hold open juried exhibitions at the John B. Aird Gallery in Toronto as well as a full slate of member exhibitions in different venues throughout the province. The Society publishes a regular newsletter and also maintains a web site to promote its history and current activities.


Sources of Quotations

The Canadian Illustrated News, May 3, 1873.
Radford, J. A. "Canadian Art and Its Critics". The Canadian Magazine, vol. 24, no. 6 (Oct. 1907).
OSA Correspondence, 1911 – 1912. F 1140 - 1
OSA Minute Books and Vice President’s and Presidents Reports, 1872-1914. F 1140 - 3 and F 1140 - 4
Ontario Art Chronicle, ca. 1918, Robert Ford Gagen (OSA Secretary 1889 -1926) typed manuscript. F 1140 - 1


Previous | Home
The Recent OSA Donations to the Government Art Collection | The Founding of the
Society and its First Exhibition
| Early Purchases and the Foundation of Art Education
The Ballot Pictures and the Provincial Art Gallery | The Final Purchases