Drawn from the Past:
The Portraits & Practice of Nicholas de Grandmaison
Main Gallery until November 2 and Helen Christou Gallery until October 26
Reception: Friday, September 14, 4 – 6 pm
Nicholas de Grandmaison was one of the four most important painters of First Nations subjects in Canada. Only Paul Kane, who sketched among them from 1845 to 1848, Cornelius Krieghoff in the 1850s, and Edmund Morris in the early 1900s, attempted a similar feat: collecting a whole people in a monumental visual record. – Joan Murray
Memory and culture were an important part of the new life of an immigrant to Canada and de Grandmaison became part of Alberta’s ongoing history when he left Russia and England to settle here. Growing up with a strong sense of cultural history, he wanted to record the visual history of the First Nations before it was diminished. He also wanted to document the oral histories that enhanced the value of his art from an historical perspective.
The University of Lethbridge collection of artworks and artifacts by this important Canadian portraitist exists as the most comprehensive historical record of his practice to date. The combination of the artworks and the archives document the Canadian west through the eyes of a professional prairie artist and preserve and protect a legacy for future generations of Canadians.
In 1988, the U of L Art Gallery received over one hundred portraits by Nicholas de Grandmaison (1892-1978), together with an extraordinary archive of the artist’s life and work, as a gift of the de Grandmaison family. The portraits include both finished and unfinished works, preparatory studies and compositional sketches, of First Nations and European sitters. Over the years, family members have continued to donate important portraits making it the largest collection of de Grandmaison’s work to date. The archives offer unique insights into the artist’s working methods and chronicle his long and successful career as a portraitist in Canada.
Letters from British Lords, bishops, premiers, First Nations friends, priests and patrons abound with descriptions of their pleasure upon viewing his works and attest to the friendships he built with people of all nations during his career. Nicholas de Grandmaison’s honours include being an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy and receiving the Order of Canada and an Honorary Degree from the U of Calgary.
The archives include important audiographs (taped recordings) made during his travels, the ceremonial regalia bestowed upon the artist at his induction into the Piikani Nation (as an honorary member, in 1959), published reviews and articles, manuscripts and studio equipment. This gift constitutes an unparalleled resource for the study and appreciation of Nicholas de Grandmaison’s work and is of value to the research of Native culture in Western Canada. The exhibition illustrates his talent and the publication chronicles his life revealing his friendships and his passions.
Drawn from the Past will exhibited be at the Art Gallery of Alberta May 24 – August 10, 2008