Thanks to a generous gift from the collection of the former medieval historian, writer, lecturer and Order of Canada recipient Dr. Margaret Wade Labarge (1916-2009), the National Gallery of Canada has acquired four prints by Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn, two by German artist Albrecht Dürer, and others by artists David Young Cameron, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and James McNeill Whistler. All nine are featured in the National Gallery’s exhibition Art of the Print: Recent Acquisitions from Rembrandt to Picasso, on view until January 2, 2011.
“Our Mother had explained to us the artistic significance and value of these works,” said Margaret Wade Labarge’s son, Paul C. Labarge. “What we also learned to appreciate was their fragility and the need to ensure their maintenance. She felt strongly that they should be available to the public and scholars in an environment that would ensure their continued preservation for future generations. We knew that these works would degrade outside a museum environment and that keeping them meant eventually losing them. We could not think of a better tribute to a historian than to ensure the survival of these works by donating them to a national institution for the benefit of Canada, the country that she had adopted as her own with such enthusiasm and dedication.”
“The Wade Labarge collection is one of great art historical significance and we are honoured to accept this generous gift from the family,” said National Gallery Director Marc Mayer. “All nine prints were produced by master artists of historical and aesthetic importance and are of the highest quality. They are a wonderful complement to other works in the National Gallery of Canada’s internationally respected print collection.”
The nine exceptionally rare prints donated to the National Gallery’s collection include The Windmill, made by Rembrandt in 1641. Rembrandt scholars long believed this beautiful and subtly detailed etching represented the artist’s birthplace; it is now known that this was not the case and that the mill, located at the time on the outskirts of Amsterdam, was used for making chamois leather.
Another print in this collection is donation St. Jerome in his Study, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). A compelling image of contemplative life, this print is known as one of the German Renaissance artist’s three “master engravings”. The other engravings — Melancholia I, 1514 and The Knight, Death and the Devil, 1513 — are in the National Gallery’s collection and this gift completes the series. Also donated is Dürer’s The Nativity, 1504, an engraving that demonstrates the artist’s exceptional skill at architectural perspective. The print complements the artist’s Adam and Eve of the same year, considered a study of ideal human proportions and also in the National Gallery’s collection.
The late Margaret Wade Labarge was born in New York City and earned a Bachelor of Literature at Oxford in 1939. Known for her distinguished career as a medieval scholar, she was a part-time lecturer at University of Ottawa and Carleton University in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Among her best known works are A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century is about Eleanor, wife of Simon de Montfort, detailing the time while her husband was away at war; and Medieval Travellers: The Rich and the Restless is about Mary, daughter of Edward I of England, a peripatetic nun. She became the first president of the Canadian Society of Medievalists in 1993.
A recipient of three honorary degrees, she was named to the Order of Canada in 1982 both for her work as an historian and a volunteer on behalf of nurses and the aged. She passed away at the age of 93 in August 2009.
Source: National Gallery of Canada