Situated in Fredericton, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is a renowned public art space. It is christened after Max Aitken, also known as Lord Beaverbrook, who financed the construction of the gallery. Beaverbrook, having spent his formative years in New Brunswick, became a prosperous press baron in England. As a nod to his roots, he bestowed numerous gifts to his home province, with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery being the last of these generous contributions. The gallery, which first opened its doors to the public in 1959 when Beaverbrook was 80, stands as the official provincial art gallery of New Brunswick.
In 1954 Lord Beaverbrook made an offer to Hugh John Flemming, the Premier of New Brunswick, to build and stock an art gallery in Fredericton. The Province accepted the proposal, and provided him with a site directly across from the New Brunswick Legislative Building on the southern bank of the Saint John River. Neil Stewart, of the Fredericton architectural firm Howell & Stewart, designed the mid-century modernbuilding. The flat-roofed single-storey building is faced with pale semi-glazed brick. It has a granite base, with cornices and a frieze of white marble quarried at Philipsburg, Quebec. The original exhibition space consisted of one high-ceilinged central gallery with a square gallery on either side.
In 1983 the building was expanded with the addition of east and west wings. These additions, funded by Marguerite Vaughan and the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation respectively, housed the Hosmer Pillow Vaughan collection of china and other decorative arts, and the Sir Max Aitken Gallery. In 1995 another expansion housing the Marion McCain Atlantic Gallery was opened. Its name honours the late wife of New Brunswick businessman Harrison McCain, who contributed $1,000,000 to the project.
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery opened with a collection of over 300 paintings, primarily British, curated by Lord Beaverbrook. Most of the artwork had been personally acquired by Beaverbrook with the assistance of advisors such as Sir Alec Martin, managing director of Christie’s, W.G. Constable, curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Lady Dunn, the widow of the industrialist and art collector Sir James Dunn. Lady Dunn later became Lady Beaverbrook when they married in 1963, a year before his demise.
In 1954, Lord Beaverbrook established the Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation, a charitable foundation with the purpose of “the purchasing for or providing funds for the purchase by libraries museums or art galleries in the Province of books manuscripts papers letters periodicals maps paintings prints statuary and other documents or works of art…” Beaverbrook transferred the paintings he had already acquired to the Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation, and the Foundation handled subsequent acquisitions for the Gallery.
The collection, valued at $2,100,000 according to contemporary news reports, included works by J. M. W. Turner, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Edwin Henry Landseer, and other 18th and 19th century British artists. Beaverbrook also collected works by contemporary artists he knew personally, such as Augustus John, William Orpen, and Graham Sutherland. Following Le Roux Smith Le Roux’s recommendation, he purchased several paintings from the 1955 Daily Express Young Artists Exhibition, which Le Roux had organized. These included Lucian Freud’s Hotel Bedroom, which won second prize in the exhibition.
Before its opening, the Gallery received two significant artwork donations in addition to Lord Beaverbrook’s own acquisitions. James Boylen, a businessman from Toronto, gifted 22 paintings by Cornelius Krieghoff. Lady Dunn donated three Walter Sickert portraits and three Salvador Dali works. Two of the Dali paintings were Lord and Lady Dunn’s portraits, while the third was the monumental painting “Santiago El Grande”. This painting, exhibited in the central gallery at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s opening, has since become synonymous with the Gallery. The painting, measuring 13 by 10 feet (400 cm × 300 cm), depicts Spain’s patron saint, James the Great, on a white horse, and was originally created for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
In 2009, a sculpture garden was established adjacent to the Gallery. The first commissioned sculpture was “The Birth of Venus” by André Lapointe, a New Brunswick Acadian artist. In 2012, the TD Bank Group donated $300,000 to support the initiative, leading to the naming of the TD Sculpture Garden. Since 1985, sculptures by Jonathan Kenworthy (“The Leopard”) and Marie-Hélène Allain (“Awakening/Éveil”) have been exhibited on the Gallery’s lawns.
As of 2012, the gallery’s permanent collection contained 3,600 items divided into four distinct collection areas: The British Collection, The Canadian Collection, the International Collection, and the New Brunswick Collection. The British Collection’s core is the original Beaverbrook collection with which the gallery opened. The Canadian Collection showcases an extensive collection of 19th and 20th-century Canadian artists such as the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, David Milne, and Jean-Paul Riopelle. This collection has a strong emphasis on work from the Atlantic region, and the gallery has extensive holdings of work by Christopher Pratt, Bruno Bobak, and Jack Humphrey, among others. The International Collection features representative works from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The Hosmer Pillow Vaughan Collection of Continental fine and decorative art is part of the International Collection.
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery was designated the Provincial Art Gallery of New Brunswick. A separate New Brunswick Collection was established to ensure a comprehensive historical survey of New Brunswick art, including work by Acadian, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq artists.
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery was renovated in 2022. The project involved revamping the gallery’s east wing, now reconceptualized as the international wing. This redesign aimed to provide a more expansive and impactful display of the permanent collection, which boasts masterpieces from renowned artists such as Tissot, Freud, Turner, and others.
Acting as a lively hub connecting art and community, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is steadfastly dedicated to maintaining the highest standards in organizing exhibits, executing programs, fostering education, and overseeing the safeguarding of cultural heritage.
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