Visitors have been experiencing art here since June 5, 1913
With notes from Jenny Rieger, historical site coordinator of The Grange
A hundred years ago, if you came upon the site where the AGO now stands, you would have seen a beautiful home — The Grange. If you walked inside, you would have been part of something very exciting: the Art Museum of Toronto’s first exhibition in that space, featuring art collected by the people who owned and occupied the house.
Members of the local media had glowing things to say about the exhibition and the AMT’s new home: “The Museum will undoubtedly become of the most interesting show places in the city,” read the Telegram on June 5, 1913, while the next day the Toronto Daily Star declared, “It is the nucleus of an art museum which will doubtless grow, as time passes, to be a national treasure house.” The writer went then detailed plans for this bright future:
The Grange is not intended to be an art gallery, but rather the germ from which such a gallery will be evolved. The trustees propose soon to make a campaign for funds with which to commence building operations. The main front of the gallery will face on St. Patrick street, which will provide with its new car line easy access from the heart of the city. The widening of Anderson street will also greatly improve traffic conditions in the vicinity of the Gallery. The site is a noble one, and the great elms of the Grange will for generations provide a worthy background.
The first exhibition held in The Grange in June 1913 was not the first exhibition organized by the Art Museum of Toronto (now the AGO). Between April 6 and May 31, 1906, the AMT held a exhibition of works by Glasgow Painters lent to them by the Albright Museum in Buffalo. In June of 1909, the AMT leased rooms in the newly built library on the corner of St. George St. and College streets for five years. The first exhibition held there was of works borrowed from private collections.
The June 1913 exhibition is special to us because it began 100 years of people experiencing art at this location on Dundas Street. It was never intended that The Grange be the art museum, although it was the site of many small exhibitions for years. There was always the intention to build a gallery to the north of The Grange and, indeed, the first wing of Walker Court was built in 1916.
The Boulton and Smith collections
The Grange, built in 1817 by D’Arcy Boulton Jr. and his wife Sarah Anne, was occupied by the same family until its last owner, Harriet Boulton Smith, died in 1909. Her second husband, Goldwin Smith, died a year later. The house had been in Harriet’s name since her marriage to William Boulton in 1846, and it was her decision to leave her home to the Art Museum of Toronto. When Harriet and Goldwin died, their art collection and The Grange became the property of the AMT.
While we know what works were owned by Goldwin Smith, unravelling the Boulton collection is more difficult. The Boulton family loaned a number of their paintings to various fundraising bazaars during the 19th century and the catalogues of those events identify paintings’ lenders by name. The difficulty is that they are listed simply as being owned by Mrs. Boulton without identifying if it is Mrs. D’Arcy Boulton (Sarah Anne) or Mrs. William Boulton (Harriet). We also don’t know where these mainly European works were acquired. There were art dealers in Toronto who sold European works and copies—copies being an acceptable form of art. Harriet and her first husband, William, spent an extended time in Europe in the late 1850s and, using the travel guides of the time, would have known what galleries and copyists to visit to purchase art. William’s father and brother were in England and continental Europe in the early part of the century and could have bought works then. But there are no records that can clarify the mystery.
The works of art in Goldwin Smith’s collection are reflective of the era in which he lived. He commissioned portraits of famous 17th-century Puritans (John Milton, John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell) from an artist named G. E. Sintzenich. In a purchasing catalogue for Sintzenich’s copies is a testimonial from Goldwin Smith stating how pleased his is with them. He notes that “the Portraits will hang where all my guests will see them, and I shall have the greatest pleasure in showing them to anyone who may call for the purpose.” They were hung in the dining room. Smith continued to collect copies and acquired a copy of Thomas Gainsborough’s famous The Blue Boy among others. Included in his collection are also originals. He had a series of watercolours of Reading (England) where he grew up and other works on paper and small oil paintings. Photographic copies of the Reading works (copies we made to protect the originals, which would fade over time) are currently hanging in The Grange library. The Boultons also had copies in their collection, including a Madonna after Titian and a detail from The Embarkation for Cythera by Jean-Antoine Watteau.
As any prominent family did at the time, the Boultons and Smith commissioned portraits. William’s portrait when he was mayor of Toronto and Harriet’s wedding portrait, both by George Berthon, are hanging in the AGO’s Canadian wing today. Born in Vienna, Berthon was the son of the court painter for Napoleon I and trained in studios throughout Europe. He moved to England and became the drawing master to Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel’s daughters. Berthon came to Toronto in 1846, and set up his studio at 61 Yonge St., very quickly becoming the most important portrait artist in the city.
While there is no portrait of the builder of The Grange, D’Arcy Boulton Jr, William’s mother, Sarah Anne, had her portrait painted by James Bowman. Bowman was an American artist who, after studying for eight years in Europe, moved to Quebec City in 1831. In 1834 he moved to Toronto where he spent a year painting portraits of important families.
Goldwin Smith and Harriet also had their portraits done by J. W. L. Forster. Forster was born in Norval, Ont., in 1850 and trained in England and France before returning and settling in Toronto in 1883. Canadian artist Wyly Grier also did a portrait of Smith. Canadian sculptor, Hamilton Plagenet McCarthy and Scottish sculptor Alexander Munro created busts of Smith (located today in The Grange library) and Walter Allward made his death mask. When Harriet was young, she and her family travelled for a year in Europe and a bust of her was done by the Italian sculptor Camillo Pirstrucci. It is on view in the front hall of The Grange.
The Grange as subject
The Boulton/Smith collection also included paintings of the house itself. Henry Bowyer Lane, who was born in England and moved to Toronto in 1842, was an architect known for designs of additions to Osgoode Hall, St. George the Martyr Church (now the Music Gallery) and numerous homes and churches. It is possible he was the architect for the 1840s addition to The Grange, as he was friends with the Boulton family. In 1847 he did a watercolour of The Grange that was shown in the 1847 Toronto Society of Artists exhibition. In 1875, Canadian artist Henri Perre also painted The Grange.
Canadian art in the collection
While the Boulton/Smith collection is largely made up of European works, the families did collect works by Canadian artists (in addition to the portraits mentioned above). Some of these are works on paper, including two lithographs of scenes from the War of 1812 and various watercolours. Continuing with the acquisition of copies, there is a copy of William Berczy’s portrait of Joseph Brant. In 1852 an exhibition was held to liquidate the debt on St. George the Martyr Church. The exhibition included a number of works loaned by the Boultons, including one by Cornelius Krieghoff, entitled Windmill. While his name is printed on the back, the work itself does not show the skill or characteristics of a Krieghoff. During a cleaning of the work in 1986, a different signature was found on a rock in the foreground. Even this signature is mysterious. “C. Stanfield, Roy’l Aca” might seem genuine, but the abbreviation that an artist of the Royal Academy would have used was “R.A.”
Madonna and Child (in the style of Raphael) was done by a prominent Canadian copyist who worked in Florence named Antoine Sebastian Falardeau. There is also a large cast plaster bust of Sir Charles Metcalfe, a mid-19th century governor general of Canada. It is the only known surviving copy, signed by Samuel Gardner, of what is possibly the earliest example of modelled sculpture produced in Ontario. A Canadian painting that is not a copy is a landscape by D. C. Grose, an itinerant English artist active in Toronto from 1860 to 1865.
How we’re celebrating this milestone
On June 5, we will display three paintings from the first exhibition near Walker Court, and Gallery Guides will be on hand to talk about them.
In The Grange, starting June 5 and for the rest of the summer, see a work from the first exhibition that has undergone partial conservation work and that revealed its secrets to an AGO intern who was conducting research on it.
Also in June, Gallery Guides will lead “100 Years AGO” tours
Finally, cookies made from the 1913 Five Roses Flour Cookbook, the most popular cookbook in 1913, will be on sale in the Norma Ridley Members’ Lounge and in caféAGO throughout June.