The Soloway Gift a “mini history of Canadian art”

Queen's Gazette
17 December 2013

Alicia Boutilier remembers the first time she had a phone call from Ottawa-based art collector and philanthropist Ruth Soloway. “She was testing the waters,” recalls Ms. Boutilier, Curator of Canadian Historical Art at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. “It wasn’t entirely clear what she wanted to do.” When Mrs. Soloway did make her intentions clear, however, they were significant: she wanted to donate an important collection of Canadian paintings to the gallery.

The donation, one of the most significant in the gallery’s history, is made up of 61 paintings, drawings and sculptures spanning a period from the 1840s through the 1980s. The collection includes works by an array of significant artists, including Emily Carr, Jean Paul Lemieux, Paul-Émile Borduas, Alex Colville and David Milne.

“We’re thrilled to have this collection,” says Jan Allen, Acting Director of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, explaining that while the collection is a personal one, its scope means it also reflects the history of art in Canada. “The character of this collection is quite fascinating – and it’s all work that Ruth Soloway lived with in her home, so much of it has not been widely seen.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Mrs. Soloway developed an interest in art in the 1950s while serving as a volunteer at the National Gallery of Canada. She was particularly inspired by the gallery’s then-director, Alan Jarvis, who she has said got her “hooked into the art world.”

 Mrs. Soloway built her collection quietly, guided initially by knowledgeable friends and by her own interests. “She never collected any particular artist in depth,” says Ms. Boutilier. “She was going for an overview. It really is a mini-lesson in Canadian art history.”

While not an art collector himself, Mrs. Soloway’s late husband, lawyer Hyman Soloway, was a Queen’s graduate (BA ’36) and had made donations to his alma mater in the past. So when it came time to find a permanent home for her significant collection, Mrs. Soloway, who is 98, knew where she wanted it to end up.

“The reason she didn’t want to donate the works to a large institution like the National Gallery is that she felt they would already have enough significant works by the artists in her collection,” says Ms. Boutilier. “She really felt it would make a bigger difference here,” adds Ms. Allen. “It appealed to her that students would be involved with the collection, and that people could use it for research and teaching.”

Forty works from the collection are currently on view as part of an exhibition called A Canadian Collection: The Soloway Gift, which is accompanied by a fully illustrated publication. Since opening in September 2013, the works have proven very popular with gallery visitors, students and school groups.

“These paintings have drawn out a lot of stories from visitors,” says Ms. Boutilier. “And they will continue to be used in future projects and exhibitions. This collection is truly a treasure trove of milestones in Canadian art.”

A Canadian Collection: The Soloway Collection is on-view at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until April 20, 2014. The Agnes Etherington Art Centre will be closed for the holidays from Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, through Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. It will re-open to the public on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.

Admission to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre is free for Queen’s University students, staff and faculty, children and youth (18 and under) and Gallery Association Members. General admission is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for students and seniors (60+).

-Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer
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