Ruth Soloway called it one of the jewels of her collection: a 1969 oil on canvas by Jean Paul Lemieux entitled Le beau monde, which had pride of place atop the mantelpiece in her Ottawa home. The painting now resides at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, along with the 60 other primarily Canadian artworks from Ms. Soloway’s collection that she donated to the gallery in 2012. Over the second half of the 20th century, Ms. Soloway quietly built her collection of paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture that span a period from the 1840s to the 1980s.
“It’s like a mini-history of Canadian art,” says Alicia Boutilier, curator of Canadian historical art at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. “There are some really strong key works by important artists like Emily Carr, Jean Paul Lemieux, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Paul-Émile Borduas.” The works are also important, she says, because they tend to reflect – whether intentional or not on the part of the collector – real turning points in the artists’ careers.”
The donation, which Ms. Boutilier calls one of the most significant gifts of Canadian art in the gallery’s history, “also fills certain gaps in our collection, such as a work by [Alex] Colville.” Also included in the collection are pieces by David Milne, William Kurelek and Michael Snow.
To celebrate the gift, the art centre mounted an exhibition, A Canadian Collection: The Soloway Gift, highlighting 40 works, many of them not viewed publicly in decades, says Ms. Boutilier. The exhibition opened in August and runs until April 3, 2014.