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Founded in 1914, the Art Gallery of Hamilton is now one of Ontario's largest public galleries. Over its 100+ year history, it has grown, changed and developed along with the communities it serves, building a permanent collection distinguished by the quality and integrity of its holdings. Our permanent collection is one of the finest in Canada, respected nationally and internationally and recognized as being particularly distinctive due in part to a significant number of iconic works that serve to distinguish the collection.
The Art Gallery of Hamilton primary collection, comprised of over 10,000 works of art, is based on Canadian historical, Canadian contemporary and European historical art. The collection of historical Canadian art was developed through the meticulous promotion of local, regional and national artists over the Gallery's 100 year history; the European collection spans Baroque through Post-Impressionist Art, with particular emphasis on the French, British and Italian schools; the collection of modern Canadian art is one of the strongest in the country, due, in no small part to the vision and efforts of Thomas Reid (T.R.) MacDonald (1908–1978), the Gallery’s first full-time director and curator.
MacDonald inaugurated the Annual Winter Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton; this yearly exhibition was held from 1948-1973. These juried exhibitions provided artists with an important exhibition venue and also brought works to Hamilton that might be acquired by the Gallery. Usually about one hundred works were featured in each exhibition, with the purchase prize (generally donated by a local patron or business) entering the AGH permanent collection. In this way, many important works were acquired, such as A.J. Casson’s First Snow, Lilias Torrance Newton’s Keith MacIver, and the iconic Horse and Train by Alex Colville. Selected as the purchase prize in 1954, Horse and Train was panned by The Hamilton Spectator art critic Mary Mason, who wrote: “There are undoubtedly some very fine paintings out at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in this year’s Winter Show, but the winner of the purchase prize is not, alas, one of them.”
The collection contains works nationally recognized as significant achievements in the development of the visual arts in Canada and that allow for an understanding and appreciation of the rich field of cultural activity.