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The National Gallery of Canada receives a priceless gift of Dutch and Flemish prints
Jan van de Velde II after Willem Buytewech, The Four Elements: Air, c. 1622, etching, plate: 18.7 × 28.8 cm; sheet 19.2 × 29.8 cm. Collection of Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran. Photo: Denis Farley.

OTTAWA.- More than half of the remarkable print collection belonging to Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran is entering the National Gallery of Canada national collection.

The two Montreal-based doctors are donating 258 Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings, and woodcuts from the 16th and 17th centuries for the benefit of all Canadians. The Meakins-McClaran print collection of more than 450 works spans more than 500 years, from the 15th to the 20th century, and was patiently built up over four decades following an afternoon spent in a gallery full of Camille Pissarro prints at the Grand Palais in Paris. At present, it is the largest private collection of Northern European prints in Canada.

A large selection of the prints is currently on display in the exhibition The Collectors’ Cosmos. The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection, organized by the National Gallery of Canada and on view at the Gallery until November 14, 2021. The exhibition includes seven prints by Rembrandt, one of the most accomplished printmakers of all time.

“The generous gift of Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran is invaluable and we are very grateful to them on behalf of all Canadians and future generations. Most of the collection was housed in archival boxes in Dr. Meakins’ and Dr. McClaran’s home and was only visible by special invitation. Now, all of these treasures are shared with a broad Canadian audience here at the National Gallery of Canada,” said Dr. Sasha Suda, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada.

“Developing this collection has been an adventure of forty years—our voyage of discovery. With each acquisition, we gained more than the image on a sheet of paper. We gained insight into seventeenth-century culture, more and much more. It is a thrill for us to share them with the public,” said Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran.

The exhibition

The Collectors’ Cosmos. The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection provides a glimpse into the richness of the collection and the particular care that the two collectors have taken in selecting each work over the years. The exhibition features 232 works selected by the exhibition’s curator, Erika Dolphin, Interim Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Canada.

The exhibition focuses on the strength of the collection, the Dutch and Flemish 16th- and 17th-century landscape and genre scenes including prints by Rembrandt. However, it also highlights the breadth of collection with works by important Northern European printmakers such as Albrecht Dürer, Pieter Brueghel, and Jacob van Ruisdael, as well as 19th-century artists including Jean-François Millet and James McNeill Whistler, and modern artists, such as Alex Colville, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Riopelle. What links them all is a fascination with the creative possibilities of the printed line, the play of light and dark, as well as an interest in the nature and the world of ideas. Visitors will see, for example, Jusepe de Ribera’s The Poet, c. 1620–1621, which embodies values important to Dr. Meakins and Dr. McClaran, namely, finding time for reflection and the importance of the arts in life.

“The exhibition presents wonderful gems from the Meakins-McClaran collection. The works address themes about life, the universe and the world we live in. You don’t have to be a specialist to appreciate the wide range of timeless subjects covered in this exhibition. A little curiosity and time to examine the works is all that is needed. I hope our visitors will be moved by what they see,” said Dr. Erika Dolphin, curator of the exhibition The Collectors’ Cosmos. The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection, and Interim Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Canada,

Both collectors’ interest in nature provides a strong underlying current in the collection, something discerned not only in the colourful depictions of animals by the naturalist John James Audubon, famous for his Birds of America, but also in the Northern European landscapes that take pride of place in the collection and in the exhibition. On view are early landscapes of vast largely imaginary panoramas, a type perfected by Pieter Bruegel, as well as later 17th-century examples that show more realistic views of the Dutch flatlands, towns and villages. Two of many such highlights are The Anglers, c. 1647, an etching by Adriaen van Ostade, and The Three Oaks, 1649 an etching by Jacob van Ruisdael.

The collection includes a number of allegorical works as well, especially several by the versatile artist and engraver Hendrick Goltzius working at the end of the 16th century. These prints attempt to make visible and understandable abstract notions of the nature of time, life and death, myth, religion, science, knowledge and the configuration of the universe. In the The Four Elements, 1588, for example, visitors can have fun finding and identifying Earth, Air, Water and Fire personified as ancient gods. Other examples are rooted in a more earthly reality of the contemporary Dutch life, as seen in a series of prints of the four times of the day, also by Goltzius, which illustrate daily household activities when time was ruled by the sun and the stars. Here we see a glimmer of a Northern European penchant for the subject of everyday life. The exhibition includes a number of genre scenes, especially those with a comedic strain that revels in the antics and foibles of rustic types.

No collection of Dutch prints would be complete without Rembrandt, one of the most talented etchers of all time. The collectors own nine, and seven are on view in the exhibition (the other two can be found in Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition). Rembrandt excelled at capturing emotion through gesture and evoking a palpable mood with the subtle manipulation of light and dark, as is vividly demonstrated in Christ and the Woman of Samaria, 1657-1658.

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