1910: Vancouver seeks “nice millionaires” to finance an art gallery


Vancouver wanted the chance to unearth some valuable old master paintings from an English philanthropist.

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On its website, the Vancouver Art Gallery the story begins in 1931, the year the first gallery opened at 1145 West Georgia St.

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But the desire to build a local gallery goes back much further. In 1910 there was a big push to build a gallery, spurred on by the possibility of bringing Old Master paintings to town.

Dr. Ludwig Mond was a German Jewish émigré who became a wealthy industrialist in England. Mond used his wealth to assemble a superb collection of Old Masters, mostly from the Italian Renaissance.

When Mond died in 1909, he bequeathed a large part of his collection to the National Gallery of Great Britain in London, to be donated on the death of his wife.

When he died in 1923, 42 paintings went to the National Gallery, including works by Raphael, Titian and Botticelli. Today the collection is valued at over £500 million.

But the National Gallery was not the only institution to benefit from his philanthropy. According to a May 7, 1910 article in The Province, Mond had left 12 paintings “to the Provincial Galleries of Britain and the Dominions”.

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The agent general of British Columbia asked the trustees of the Mond estate to obtain some or all of the paintings, which had an estimated value of $2.5 million in 1910, which is about $75 million dollars today.

The problem was that Vancouver didn’t have an art gallery to display them. The Studio Club therefore tried to arouse interest in one of them.

The Studio Club had been formed in 1904 by local art lovers and organized art classes and exhibitions. It seems to have died out around 1913-14, but it was a big deal in its day – Emily Carr showed his work at several Studio Club exhibitions and even taught art classes there.

On June 16, 1910, The Vancouver World lent its influence to the campaign by publishing a front-page illustration supporting the gallery. It shows a beautiful Native woman wearing a headband labeled “Vancouver,” painting a banner that reads, “Won’t kind millionaire(s) donate to an art gallery?” »

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The woman is depicted as a giant towering over the city, one foot on Howe Street, just north of the present Sinclair Centre, the other on Hornby and Hastings streets.

Below the illustration is the message: “An Opportunity to Stay Immortal.” Alas, no kind millionaire showed up, and a gallery wouldn’t have sprung up for two decades.

Illustration from June 16, 1910, Vancouver World asking
Illustration from June 16, 1910, Vancouver World asking ‘kind millionaires’ to donate money to build an art gallery in the city.

Yet the Studio Club was so energized by the prospect of an art gallery that it launched a public fundraising campaign to purchase the proposed gallery’s first painting. Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith was one of Canada’s most successful artists in 1910 and often featured in Studio Club exhibitions. The club therefore decided to buy his painting, The Heart of the Empire, for $500. It features a street scene in the heart of London near Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London.

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“Motorized and horse-drawn vehicles are depicted in this virtuoso piece, in which depth is achieved by an active and rather colorful foreground against a bluish, misty architectural background,” wrote Roger Boulet for a Bell-Smith exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1977.

The fundraiser was successful, but there was no art gallery to install it. The Studio Club therefore “lent” the painting for safekeeping to the Art, Historical and Scientific Association, which operated a city museum at the Carnegie Library in Main and Hastings. streets (now the Carnegie Center). The museum moved to its current building in Vanier Park in 1968, and Bell-Smith’s Painting is still in his collection.

Curator Wendy Nichols says the Museum of Vancouver has about 200 tables in his collection, including one from Carr. Totems, Masset, Queen Charlotte Island dates from 1912 and features a classic scene of Carr’s totem poles along a path, a stone’s throw from several houses. Carr donated it in 1943 for display at a Marys of Spitfire Canada Fund which raised funds for the military effort during World War II.

After fundraising, it was donated to the Lipsett Museum, a large collection of First Nations and Chinese artifacts that once stood on the grounds of the PNE in Hastings Park. The Lipsett collection was transferred to the Museum of Vancouver in 1971, and Carr’s painting accompanied it. But like the Bell-Smith painting, it is not currently on display.


Totems, Masset, Queen Charlotte Island (1912) by Emily Carr is in the collection of the Museum of Vancouver.
Totems, Masset, Queen Charlotte Island (1912) by Emily Carr is in the collection of the Museum of Vancouver.

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