The Story of the Famous McMichael Art Galley in Ontario, Canada
The Phoenix Collection is proud to showcase works of art by the Group of Seven, their contemporaries and First Nations and Aboriginal art. Here is the story of a remarkable collection at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario
Consider a visit to this beautiful art gallery this summer.
The story of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection begins in 1952, when Robert and Signe McMichael decided to purchase ten acres of land in the village of Kleinburg, Ontario. To the McMichaels, Kleinburg evoked images of the Canadian wilderness and a country retreat inspiring them to build a pioneer-style home they named Tapawingo. Architect Leo Venchiarutti designed the McMichael's original home in 1954, and the subsequent additions in 1963, 1967, 1969 and 1972.
Moved by the natural environment, the McMichaels began collecting works of art by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, artists who also drew inspiration from the natural landscape.
The McMichaels' first purchase in 1955 was Montreal River, by Lawren Harris. Next was Tom Thomson's Pine Island — launching what would become a lifetime objective for the McMichaels: to build a remarkable collection dedicated to the work of Canadian artists. Interestingly, six members of the group, A.Y. Jackson,[ Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley,Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston and A.J. Casson[ along with four of the artists' wives are buried onsite at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in the small patch of consecrated land bordered by trees, with graves marked by large chunks of the Canadian Shield.
A Gift to the Province of Ontario
By the early 1960s, hundreds of people were visiting Tapawingo to view the McMichaels’ growing private gallery. By 1965, the collection comprised 194 paintings, some purchased by the McMichaels, others donated by generous donors as well as by the artists themselves.
As the size and importance of their collection grew, the couple realized that they were the custodians of a national treasure. In 1965, the McMichaels offered to donate their collection– as well as their home and land – to the Province of Ontario. Some eight months later, in July of 1966, the “McMichael Conservation Collection of Art” officially opened.
Evolution of a National Treasure
Over the years, the collection has continued to grow – expanding now, through purchases and donations from private and corporate art collectors, to approximately 6,000 artworks.
Today, the McMichael facility is considerably larger than Tapawingo. At 85,000 square feet, it now includes thirteen exhibition galleries, a theatre, and Gallery Shop. And yet, one can still feel the charm of the log and barnboard walls and fieldstone fireplaces of the original home.
In addition to its special focus on the art of Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection includes works by First Nations, Inuit and other artists who have made a contribution to the development of Canadian art.