Skip to Content

Art Gallery of Ontario

Keyword Site Search

Art Matters Blog

Archive: April, 2013

Connecting with art, on screen and face-to-face

April 25th, 2013

How Gallery Guides are animating the Art Gallery of Ontario with digital content and conversation

Screen shot from the iBook Small Wonders for the Thomson European Collection of Art, which is available on Gallery Guide iPads.

Screen shot from the iBook Small Wonders for the Thomson European Collection of Art, which is available on Gallery Guide iPads.

For galleries and museums around the world, digital and mobile technologies are opening up endless opportunities to enhance visitors’ experience and form new connections between the art within our walls and the world outside. In this post Elyse Rodgers describes an initiative she has been working on during a year-long Education and Public Programming internship at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It combines mobile technology and the interpretive skills of our Gallery Guide volunteers to create rich and engaging conversations about art. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A: Jason Evans, Grange Prize Photographer-in-Residence

April 24th, 2013

Jason Evans, A long, long time AGO / Media Productions / Lee, Gary, Pat, Danny, Zoé, Greg, Barb, 2013
Jason Evans, A long, long time AGO / Media Productions / Lee, Gary, Pat, Danny, Zoé, Greg, Barb, 2012

Welsh photographer Jason Evans is the current photographer-in-residence at the AGO. As part the of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, his photo series featuring 12 groups of AGO staff members, A long, long time AGO, will be on view on the AGO’s Dundas Street façade and inside the Elizabeth & Tony Comper Gallery on Level 1 throughout May 2013. Evans, a 2012 Grange Prize nominee, will also facilitate public photography workshops focused on portraiture and at AGO 1st Thursdays on May 2, he will move through the Galleries with a roving DJ station, playing records from his personal collection for artworks in the AGO collection in a performance titled Music for Looking. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: The Mystery of the Molenaer

April 22nd, 2013

A close view of Molenaer's signature

A close view of Molenaer’s signature

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s first exhibition, happening on June 5, 2013, the Conservation Department is highlighting a painting that was a part of that exhibition, entitled Landscape with Figures.

This painting was originally in the collection of the Boulton family, builders and first owners of The Grange. While we don’t know for sure whether it belonged to Sarah Anne or to Harriet Boulton, we do know that William and Harriet took an extended trip to Europe from 1856 to 1957. We also know that Landscape with Figures was not included in the 1852 bazaar for the liquidation of debt due on St. George the Martyr Church, which included many paintings from the Boultons, so they may not have owned the painting at that date. This may mean that it was more likely acquired by Harriet, rather than Sarah Anne. We can’t be sure when the painting arrived at The Grange, but we do know that Harriet’s father was consul general to the Netherlands, and it’s possible Harriet brought it with her from her childhood home in Boston.

From Molendi to Molenaer

In the summer of 2009, AGO conservation intern Emily Min made an amazing discovery. While cleaning a painting, a work at first attributed to unknown artist named “F. Molendi,” she discovered a gem amongst the soil, dust and debris. Surface cleaning revealed the signature, an obscured “K. Molenaer.” Compared with other examples of this Dutch artist’s signature, we could see it was a match.

Klaes Molenaer (c. 1630-1676) was a moderately successful landscape painter from Haarlem, an active cultural centre and the most lucrative location for artists to work in the Netherlands during the 17th century. Painters who would have counted among Molenaer’s contemporaries included Frans Hals, Salomon van Ruysdael and Jan Steen. A work by Molenaer augments an already strong collection of 17th-century Netherlandish work — from what was to become known as the Dutch Golden Age — at the AGO, and we are fortunate to have found another example from this period.

Landscape with Figures after varnish application

Landscape with Figures after varnish application

Treatment details

A partial conservation treatment reveals the appearance of the artwork before treatment and at various points during treatment. On the left, a preliminary, new varnish layer has re-saturated the appearance of the paint layers, but we have not yet done the inpainting (retouching) and final varnishing. We’ve surface-cleaned the centre area and removed the old varnish layer towards the left and only partially towards the right. The right side still has the old varnish and surface soiling in place. Surface cleaning and removal of a discoloured varnish layer will brighten the overall painting and return it to a truer representation of the artist’s original intent. The signature in the bottom right corner — very dark and obscured by a discoloured varnish — only became evident through close scrutiny and chance positioning of a bright light.

Paint-sample analysis by the Canadian Conservation Institute identified the nature of the unusual dark spots visible throughout the sky. Originally we thought that a resin may be migrating from the wood support through the paint layers to the surface of the artwork. CCI was able to establish, however, that the disfiguring spots were more likely caused by a drying oil migrating from the paint layers or older coating below the uppermost paint layers.

The Molenaer installed in the anteroom of The Grange.

The Molenaer installed in the anteroom of The Grange.

Conservation treatment on Landscape with Figures will eventually be completed but for now the painting is an informative illustration of the various stages of a painting conservation treatment stopped mid-way. Surface cleaning and varnish removal will continue in the right side of the painting and we will re-join the top and bottom panels. This will be followed by the application of an isolating, preliminary varnish layer before we do precise retouching with modern paints to disguise the dark spots and better visually reintegrate them with the surrounding original paint layers. Only then will we apply a final overall varnish layer.

We know that the painting has been restored at some point in the past, because sample analysis also revealed the presence of pigments that would not have been available during the artist’s lifetime. These pigments, Prussian blue (available starting in 1704) and cobalt blue (available 1803-04) appear to have been used to cover the disfiguring brown spots. We found the later pigments on top of a varnish layer, with original paint below.

Though we were able to identify the artist behind the work, the mystery remains as to how this painting came to Canada. Still, Harriet would have known that she owned a Molenaer, and now that the grit and grime from years of gas lighting and coal fires has been removed, so do we.

Compiled by Stephanie Gibson, Sherry Phillips, Jenny Rieger, Maria Sullivan

Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.

Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program

Seeking Sorel Etrog

April 18th, 2013

Where can you find his sculptures? Explore the map below, and help us expand it

View Seeking Sorel Etrog in a larger map

This spring we’ll have a lot of Sorel Etrog’s work inside the Gallery, but we’re also seeking photos of his work to add to the map above. Etrog’s sculptures are visible in many public spaces around Toronto, from Sunlife at the corner of King Street and University Avenue to a cluster of works near Yonge and Davisville, and we’re inviting you to help us celebrate his impact on Toronto’s streetscape with your own photography.

Do you have your own photo of Etrog’s work to add, from around Toronto or beyond? Email the photo, title and date of the work (if available), the date when you took the photo and the location to and you could win a prize pack, including a Sorel Etrog exhibition catalogue, a poster and two passes to the exhibition Sorel Etrog.

Contest closes June 7, 2013.

Please note:

We’re happy to receive new views of the works already indicated on the map, as well as photos of other works in Toronto. Some of Etrog’s sculptures are also in public spaces in cities around the world, so if you spotted one while travelling, we’d love to add those to map. Submissions are welcome from anyone, but due to the nature of the prizes, the contest is open only to residents of Canada (excluding Quebec).

About the exhibition:

Sorel Etrog, running April 27 to Sept. 29, 2013, is a career-spanning exhibition that will cast the artist in a new light in his adopted hometown of 54 years. It will include his archetypal sculptures as well as drawings, paintings, book illustrations and prints from the AGO’s collection and private collections. One of the highlights, and one of Etrog’s pivotal works, will be his rarely seen film, Spiral. This meditation on the human condition, from birth to death, will be a catalyst for renewed reflection on the accomplishments of one of Canada’s most diverse and challenging artists.

Conservation Notes: Zeroing in on a tiny menace

April 9th, 2013

What is this thing?
The specimen in the video above, the larva of a webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella), was discovered in a cardboard box stored on top of a wool carpet in an administrative office. At only 5mm long, webbing clothes moth larvae can be very difficult to detect. The red wool fibres from the carpet — also visible in the video — provided the larva a steady source of food. At this stage in its life cycle, after hatching from an egg, the moth can cause the most damage, because larvae feed on material and produce frass (aka excrement) that will be a colour similar to the material that has been eaten (in this case the red fibre from the carpet).

What’s happening in the video?
Conservators Sherry Phillips and Maria Sullivan collected the larva and viewed it under microscope to identify the specimen, and the carpet was immediately wrapped and sealed to prevent further migration of pests, then placed in a chest freezer to eliminate any other larvae, eggs and adults in the carpet.

Where did it come from?
Moths can find their way into the Gallery on coats, clothing or on other items that staff or visitors carry. New artworks or materials are screened for pests before placement in the galleries or vaults.

So, what’s the big deal?
All galleries and museums need to be vigilant and pro-active in keeping pests under control. The goal of an effective pest-management program is to find and deal with these issues before they affect the collection, and so efforts extend to all areas of the building, not just in the galleries. Larvae can cause extensive damage to artwork made of or containing materials that have protein, such as natural fibres — particularly silk and wool — as well as hides and feathers. AGO staff monitor for pests throughout the building on a weekly basis to identify potential problems, because it is easier to prevent a problem than to deal with an infestation.

Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.

Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program

Patti Smith tours Revealing the Early Renaissance

April 4th, 2013

Giotto di Bondone Italian, about 1266 – 1337 The Peruzzi Altarpiece Tempera and gold leaf on panel 105.7 x 250.2 cm The North Carolina Museum of Art

Giotto di Bondone, Italian, about 1266 – 1337, The Peruzzi Altarpiece, tempera and gold leaf on panel, 105.7 x 250.2 cm, The North Carolina Museum of Art

A guest post by Sasha Suda, coordinating curator of Revealing the Early Renaissance and AGO assistant curator of European Art

Patti Smith and curator Sasha Suda look at Pacino di Bonaguida's painting The Chiarito Tabernacle.

Patti Smith and curator Sasha Suda look at Pacino di Bonaguida’s painting The Chiarito Tabernacle.

On March 9, 2013, Patti Smith came to the AGO to preview the Revealing the Early Renaissance exhibition. In preparation for her arrival, I read an interview where Patti described the inspiration that St. Francis brought to her work: “In this period of my life his idea of simplicity and of being close to nature is what I wish to aspire to. It’s simply his example. It’s that simple. He is a holistic example of how to conduct oneself in the world.”

In that same interview, she discussed helping to restore one of Giotto’s frescoes from his famous fresco series at the church of St. Francis of Assisi. This boded well — we have four works by Giotto in the exhibition, and even one image of St. Francis painted by the master himself (far-right panel in The Peruzzi Altarpiece, above).

Patti’s passion for the art on display was palpable as soon as she entered the exhibition space. It was clear that she had seen a great deal of medieval and Renaissance art — she hardly needed a guide.

After taking in the art, Patti asked me a question that addressed one of the exhibition’s most meaningful nuances: who was Pacino di Bonaguida and didn’t he seem to be doing something far more mystical than the other artists in the show?

Pacino di Bonaguida (active about 1303–about 1347) The Crucifixion ca. 1315–20 Tempera and gold leaf on panel Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, (cat. 1980, n. 19.) EX.2012.2.16, cat. 4

Pacino di Bonaguida (active about 1303–about 1347), The Crucifixion, ca. 1315–20, tempera and gold leaf on panel, Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, (cat. 1980, n. 19.), EX.2012.2.16, cat. 4

Specifically, Patti asked about the Longhi Crucifixion (see left) painted by Pacino. “Why is the background black?” Pacino approached imagery in new ways — painting the black background to accurately depict the biblical account describing the darkness that followed Christ’s crucifixion. “I’m sure that Pacino was a mystic,” I explained to Patti. “He chooses the theological resonance of darkness over the opulence of a gold background.” My favourite part of this painting, I confessed, was Mary Magdalene’s hair — “Isn’t it wild?”

Patti took the painting in for a moment more, and but it wasn’t until that night that I realized what she had been thinking about. During her performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, she incorporated our conversation into her song Beneath the Southern Cross (click here to watch her perform the song and hear what she had to say).

Seeing and hearing Patti Smith riff off of Pacino di Bonaguida, the great early Renaissance manuscript painter, was one of my best-ever curatorial moments. Thanks, Patti.

[Editor’s note: We are currently experiencing some problems with our commenting system on and we’re working to get it back up and running ASAP. If you have a comment or question about this post, please reach us through our Facebook page or on Twitter at @agotoronto.]

Google Art Project, the AGO and Jon Rafman’s
Brand New Aura

April 3rd, 2013

Jon Rafman, Brand New Paint Job (Emily Carr Master Bedroom), 2013, digital image.

In April 2012, we joined dozens of other galleries and museums worldwide who are sharing their collections through Google Art Project, which allows users to explore a wide range of artworks at brushstroke level detail and build their own collections to share. Our initial GAP collection shared 43 high-resolution images and represented the work of 38 artists.

This year, as other Canadian organizations are adding their collections to GAP, we’re excited to expand ours, bringing the total number of artworks to 97. Our new additions include pieces by 10 celebrated Canadian artists: Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, J.E.H. MacDonald, Franklin Carmichael, Paul Peel, Morrice Cullen, James Wilson Morrice, Mary Hiester Reid, Cornelius Krieghoff and Helen Galloway McNicoll.

Another new addition to our GAP collection is the work of contemporary Canadian artist Jon Rafman. We’re excited to present his series of digital images alongside the works from our collection that inspired their creation. Below, read a summary of the project by its curator, Stefan Hancherow, and see more of Rafman’s work. Read the rest of this entry »