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The National Gallery of Canada pays tribute to the first woman to lead the institution
Dr. Jean Sutherland Boggs was appointed director of the National Gallery on June 1, 1966. Photo: David Barbour.

OTTAWA.- In the wake of the death of Jean Sutherland Boggs on August 22, at age 92, the National Gallery of Canada offers its heartfelt condolences to her family and salutes her outstanding contribution to the advancement of the visual arts. She will be remembered as one of the NGC’s most effective leaders.

“Jean Sutherland Boggs is a key personality in the history of the National Gallery. The acquisitions of international art that she championed are among the most beloved of Canada’s national collection. She established photography as a new collecting area for the Gallery, initiating a collection that is now among the finest in the world. Moreover, Jean Boggs was given the responsibility to deliver a grand new home for Canada’s national collection; the success of that project was such that its architect, Moshe Safdie went on to build many more art museums. She is among my heroes and we strive daily to maintain the standards of excellence that she established,” said NGC Director and CEO, Marc Mayer.

The NGC will organize a commemorative event on Friday, September 26, to remember Jean Boggs. This event will start at 10 am and will be open to the public.

Leading the NGC through a decade of major achievements
Dr. Boggs was appointed director of the National Gallery on June 1, 1966. As the fifth director of the Gallery, she was also the first woman and first accredited art historian to lead the institution. In addition to her scholarship, she possessed a wealth of experience gained in Canada and the United States.

Before her appointment as director of the NGC, she taught in a number of American institutions, including the University of California and Washington University, between 1948 and 1962. She was curator of the Art Gallery of Toronto, now the Art Gallery of Ontario, from 1962 to 1966.

As director, she played a leading role at the National Gallery for a full decade. Her vision and her exceptional abilities as an administrator made that period a turning point for cultural history in Canada.

Her leadership, determination and energy guided the extensive expansion of the national collection and staff, creating larger spaces for exhibition galleries, the bookstore and offices (then located in the Lorne Building in Ottawa), and stewarded increased budgets for operations, programs and the acquisition of works of art.

She compiled a number of publications that are still used as reference works by scholars, researchers and art lovers today.

1966 to 1976: The national collection blossoms
Under her leadership, the Gallery made the then-controversial purchase of eight Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes in 1967. The museum also acquired many outstanding works by leading artists, including Bernini, Canova, Constable, Degas, Flavin, Gauguin, Klimt, Molinari, Mondrian, Pollock, Poussin, Rembrandt, Snow and Van Gogh, to name only a few.

Remarkable works by Canadian artists such as David Milne, L.L. FitzGerald and A.Y. Jackson made their way into the national collection thanks to generous donations from Vincent Massey and the family of Douglas Duncan. The interior of the Rideau Street Convent Chapel was also added to the collection under her watch. By the time Dr. Boggs left the National Gallery on July 1, 1976, a total of 8,620 works had been acquired during her appointment.

A lifelong passion for visual arts
Fully dedicated to the visual arts, Jean Sutherland Boggs would continue to make a major contribution after leaving the Gallery. She was professor of fine arts at Harvard University from 1976 to 1979 and director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1978 to 1982.

As chair of the board of directors and chief executive officer of the Canada Museums Construction Corporation from 1982 to 1985, Boggs was the driving force behind the construction of the prestigious edifice on Sussex Drive that now houses the National Gallery of Canada, as well as the equally successful new building for the Canadian Museum of Civilization, now the Canadian Museum of History, across the river.

During the 1980s Boggs organized several outstanding exhibitions, including a major retrospective on the works of Edgar Degas for the National Gallery of Canada, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Réunion des musées nationaux de France. In fact, her Degas retrospective was the inaugural exhibition for the new NGC building in 1988, and is still considered the exhibition of record for that artist. She went on to organize a Picasso exhibition, presented at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Grand Palais in Paris in 1992, and indeed, she organized many other outstanding exhibitions.

A distinguished career
Jean Sutherland Boggs received numerous prestigious awards throughout her career. In 1973 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada “in recognition of her scholarship and the vision and energy she has displayed in developing the collection and the services of the Gallery.” in 1992 she was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest honour.

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