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Since the Ontario Society of Artists' (OSA) offer to relinquish control over the art school had been accepted by the Minister of Education, the school had continued to operate without OSA input and it had been largely unsuccessful. In 1890, the school was re-established as the Central Ontario School of Art and Design.
Governed by a board of directors, the School was once again became affiliated with the OSA. It was run out of the OSA’s newly-leased galleries at 165 King Street West and, as before, many OSA members taught at the school. In the Vice-President’s Report of 1892-93, its growing success as well as its long-term needs were prophetically acknowledged:
“The pupils have largely increased in number, one hundred and twenty-four names having been registered this year, and a great advance has been made in the character of the work done, warranting the hope that a continuance of the present connection may next year still further promote the practical usefulness of the school by obtaining enlarged accommodation … and eventually securing its recognition by the Provincial Government as a Normal Art School for Ontario with a substantial subsidy to render possible thoroughly effective progress.”
- Marmaduke Matthews, Vice President, Ontario Society of Artists, 1892-3
The annual exhibition of 1896 marked a new method of a selecting works for the government. Described in the President’s Report of 1895-96, paintings to the value of $200 were to be chosen, this amount to be used from the annual $500 grant. There was no resistance on the OSA’s part to this requirement and the president stated that it was, “being complied with cheerfully, and is regarded as desirable.”
A ballot amongst the membership was held to choose the paintings which were to be valued at $100 each. Because of the method of selection, these works became known as the “Ballot Pictures.”
The Ballot Pictures for 1896 were two oils: William Atkinson’s Old Stage Days, Ontario and F. McGillivray Knowles’s, Notre Dame, Paris. This latter work remains as part of the collection today and can be found hanging on the second floor of the Ontario Legislature in Toronto
The Ballot Pictures would continue to be selected in this way until 1912. Further, the Minister of Education had, in 1897, entered into another agreement with the OSA, motivated by the addition of a third floor to the Normal School (a teachers’ college, now the location of Ryerson University in Toronto) in 1896, which provided spacious new galleries.
OSA members would provide paintings to fill the walls and in return the government would allocate a grant of up to $800 to purchase selected works.
A special committee, comprising of George Ross, Minister of Education, and Dr. S. P. May, the Superintendent of the Educational Museum, was formed to select the works from the new gallery. When the grant was first exercised in 1899, fourteen paintings were purchased in addition to the two ballot pictures. Of the sixteen works acquired by the government that year, six remain in the collection.
By October 1907, a contemporary account in the Canadian Magazine reported that at least 100 works by Ontario artists were hanging in what was now referred to as the Provincial Art Gallery, or the “Louvre of the Province” as it was later described by artist Robert Ford Gagen.However, the magazine’s critic was less impressed with the quality of the art and wrote: “and it may be said that they are not the great efforts of these artists, but the best the present Government can apparently afford.”
The government continued to purchase artworks from the OSA’s annual exhibitions until 1914. However, the method of selection did not always meet with the approval of the OSA. In 1907 for example, a dispute had arisen concerning the works chosen.
A committee, known as the Guild of Civic Art, had been formed in 1900 and charged with the responsibility of making the selections. Run by an executive of artists and laymen, the Guild promoted itself as an organization available to give advice on artistic matters in the public realm. As noted in its charter, the Guild offered: to enter into agreements with the Municipality of Toronto, Corporations, or private persons, to act in a purely advisory capacity in matters pertaining to works of an Artistic nature.
The situation in 1907 involved the selection of two paintings that were considered ineligible due to the status of the artists, Archibald Browne and Franklin Brownell. All artists were required to have works on display at both the provincial art gallery and the annual OSA exhibition in order to be considered by the selection committee. As neither artist had fulfilled this obligation, the OSA deemed the Guild's choices invalid.
Despite the OSA’s objections and an appeal to the Minister of Education, the selections stood. Continuing dissatisfaction with the outcome was noted by the secretary in the OSA’s records as: Pictures paid for by the Ont Government not endorsed by the OSA. Not only did this incident cause a rupture in the OSA itself by bringing to the surface increasing antagonism between some of the old guard and the newer members, but it led to the formation in 1907 of a breakaway group, the Canadian Art Club.
Although the Guild’s choices were not rescinded, the minister did agree to form a new selection committee. Between 1908 and 1912, this new committee was to consist of a representative of the government, a member of the OSA and two laymen appointed by the OSA.
Overall, the Guild of Civic Art Committee in its various incarnations selected over 60 works from the OSA’s annual exhibitions.
Eight of the works that were chosen by the committee and still in the Government of Ontario Art Collection today are illustrated below.