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About the Canadian Historical Art Collection

William Brymner, Border of the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1885, oil on canvas. Purchase, Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund and Wintario matching funds, 1979 (22-027)
Arthur Lismer, Quebec Village (Saint-Hilarion), 1926, oil on canvas. Gift of H. S. Southam, 1949 (00-094)
Jacobine Jones, Circus Pony, 1932, stone (steatite). Purchase, Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund and Ontario Ministry of Culture and Communications, 1990 (33-030.115)


The Canadian Historical Art Collection reflects the history of Canadian fine art in all media produced before the last 25 years. In addition to art production in the Western tradition, the Collection includes significant Inuit and First Nations art and artifacts. The Collection also encompasses three main decorative arts collections intimately connected to regional history: the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress, the Heritage Quilt Collection and the Silver Collection. Guided by steady curatorial visions over the past half-century, the strengths of the Collection have been informed by the Agnes’ legacy of pioneering exhibitions and publications; by significant donors; by strategic purchases; and by the history of the gallery, Queen’s University and Kingston. Acquisitions build upon our past and the collection’s strengths, and reflect the evolving cultural matrix of Canada.

The Collection has grown in quality and complexity, developing strengths in early topographical drawings by such artists as Edward Charles Frome, Elizabeth Frances Amherst Hale and William Henry Bartlett; late 19th- to early 20th-century landscape and portraiture by such artists as William Brymner, F. M. Bell-Smith and Robert Harris; modernist works by such artists as Edwin Holgate, Arthur Lismer, Sarah Robertson, David Milne and Marian Dale Scott; and abstractions of the 1950s–1970s by such artists as Paul-Émile Borduas, Jack Bush, William Ronald and K. M. Graham. Key Kingston artists William Sawyer, Daniel Fowler and André Biéler, as well as the theatre portraits of Grant Macdonald, are represented in depth.

The Collection includes a growing representation of works by First Nations artists, such as Carl Beam. The representation of Inuit art encompasses over 250 sculptures, prints and drawings primarily from the late 1950s to 1970s, with significant works by such artists as Kananginak Pootoogook and Pitseolak Ashoona. Many of these were donated by John and Mary Robertson between 1985 and 1995, and additions continue to be made from other sources. The Constantine Collection is unique within the Collection in that it contains Iñupiaq, Yu’pik and Athabascan objects from the western Subarctic (mainly Alaska), which were presented to Queen’s in 1929.

The Heritage Quilt Collection, founded in 1981, includes outstanding examples of medallion quilts, log cabin quilts, Victorian crazy quilts and commemorative quilts. With a focus on local heritage and the creative use of traditional patterns and construction, this collection is distinct from, but has ties to, quilts produced as art objects within a larger artistic practice, such as Joyce Wieland’s True Patriot Love in our holdings.

The Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress comprises over 2500 fashion items spanning the late 1700s to 1970s, primarily from the Kingston region. Initiated by Margaret Angus, it came under the care of the Art Centre in the late 1980s. The emphasis is on women’s dresses, but the collection also includes a range of accessories, as well as some children’s and men’s clothing. The oldest item is a pair of shoes worn by Ann Kirby in her 1791 Kingston marriage to Robert Macaulay.

The Silver Collection contains over 380 pieces of British and Canadian domestic silverware from the 17th to the mid-20th century, with a particular strength in Georgian tableware. Among the most spectacular pieces is a Silver Cup presented to Kingston businessman John Kirby at the end of the War of 1812.