Bringing Shadow to Light: Gifts from a Manitoba Collection

Alexander J. Musgrove, Pansies, c. 1928. Watercolour on paper. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Robert and Margaret Hucal, 2009-422

Private collectors have historically played an invaluable role helping build and shape art holdings in public museums and galleries across Canada. The Winnipeg Art Gallery is no exception. Throughout its more than one hundred years of existence, the WAG has benefitted enormously from countless generous and discriminating individuals, families and foundations who have donated their prized objects and contributed to the Gallery’s permanent collection.

This exhibition of approximately 40 paintings, drawings, and prints pays tribute to Robert and Margaret Hucal, Manitoba art collectors who, since 1990, have quietly gifted almost 350 works of mostly Canadian historical painting, sculpture, photography, prints, and drawings to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The primary focus of their generosity has been works by artists with a connection to this province. Thus, you will find exquisite examples of works by William Kurelek, William Winter, Philip Surrey, and Charles Comfort in this exhibition. Equally, the Gallery’s collection of Canadian prints has expanded significantly and deepened as a result of their kindness and discernment. Examples range from the spectacularly displayed craftsmanship of Edwin Holgate’s wood engraving, to the futuristic linocuts of Sybil Andrews, to rare early intaglios by Ivan Eyre and Esther Warkov. In certain cases, the WAG has been fortunate to acquire original preparatory sketches that correspond to finished prints, a happy discovery important to art historical study as well as aesthetic appreciation.

One particularly unique aspect of the Hucal’s collecting spirit must be emphasized. As the exhibition’s title is meant to suggest, they have contributed to building-up important areas of the Gallery’s collection that has sometimes been overlooked. Small and quickly executed preparatory sketches and studies—objects that play an indelible role in an artist`s creative process—earn equal attention to finished canvases, final proofs and end products, contributing enormously to the WAG’s capacity to facilitate important primary research. A second way the Hucals have, as it were, brought shadow into light has been by gifting works of art by significant but hitherto underrepresented (and in some cases forgotten) Winnipeg artists of the early twentieth century, such as Alexander Musgrove, Alison Newton and Caven Atkins. Finally, in addition to defining examples, the Hucals have donated uncharacteristic works by nationally significant artists like William Kurelek, Bertram Brooker, and Fritz Brandtner, providing the WAG with the means to deepen scholarly and public appreciation of these artists.

The Hucal collection not only reflects personal taste and commitment but, perhaps above all, offers moving personal reflections about the world in which the works on display were created. Many of the pieces reveal painters and printmakers who were oriented, in the words of one anonymous artist quoted by the influential Winnipeg-born art critic Robert Ayre in 1949, “to the joys and despairs of our people” so as to “make art the concern of everyone.”

William Kurelek, Behold Man Without God #4, 1973. Oil on board. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Robert and Margaret Hucal, 2012-183. ©Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto

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