Society

REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA #15: Because our National Gallery is bold and brave

When it comes to spending your tax dollars on obscure art-world masterpieces, our National Gallery is bold and brave


Forget Voice of Fire, that $1.8-million three-striped bauble that will forever anger Parliament Hill philistines. And don’t fret over that newly installed million-dollar twig on Nepean Point, a.k.a. One Hundred Foot Line by Roxy Paine. Chicken feed. Mere chicken feed. Ottawa’s art aficionados know the really big money is used to purchase old, often obscure masterpieces that rarely make headlines but quietly and tastefully hang on the walls of the National Gallery of Canada for the particular viewing pleasure of capital residents.

Topping the list is Virgin and Child With an Angel by Francesco Salviati circa 1535-1540. The price tag in 2005 was $4.5 million for a painting that some might describe as a cutesy Christmas card. And how about Jupiter and Europa by Guido Reni? That 1636 scene of a lady riding a bull cost $3.45 million in 1991. Not bad for a cowgirl.

Or consider The Penitent St. Jerome in His Study. That cost $1.75 million in 2004, and gallery officials aren’t even sure who painted it. But it must have been some artist, around 1620, deserving of fame and fortune. Then there’s Hope I created by Gustav Klimt in 1903. The gallery won’t say what that nude, very pregnant lady cost when purchased in 1970. Today Klimt’s paintings sell in the tens of millions of dollars. Hope I, alone, is worth more than all the contemporary works acquired by the gallery in the past few years.

So let the Manitoba hog farmers complain all they want about blowing money on abstract paintings any five-year-old supposedly could copy. We in Ottawa know such paintings are mere diversions to avoid complaints about the truly pricey works acquired by our own hometown gallery. — Paul Gessell

Read all 44 of Ottawa Magazine’s “Reasons to Love Ottawa” in the March/April edition. On newsstands now.

Photography: © National Gallery of Canada: Francesco Salviati, Virgin and Child with an Angel, c. 1535-1539; Guido Reni, Jupiter and Europa, c. 1636; Pensionante del Saraceni, The Penitent Saint Jerome in His Study, c. 1615; Gustav Klimt, Hope I, 1903

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