BMO Financial makes significant donation of de Grandmaison works to gallery

BMO Financial Group has donated 67 original pastel portraits by Nicholas de Grandmaison (1892-1978) from its art collection to the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

The collection, which is valued at more than $1.66 million, spans a period of over 30 years and traces the development of de Grandmaison's talent and facility as one of the most important painters and portraitists of western First Nations people in Canada.

"The University of Lethbridge already owns one of the most comprehensive collections of artworks and artifacts by this important Canadian portraitist," says Robert Hayes, senior vice president, Prairies Division, BMO Bank of Montreal. "We are excited to enhance this collection with a gift that will allow it to continue to serve as a resource for students, faculty and independent scholars."

de Grandmaison
Nicholas de Grandmaison, Across the Mountain. From the University of Lethbridge Art Collection. Gift of BMO Financial Group, 2013.

De Grandmaison created portraits of southern Albertans and Canada's First Nations populations for over 45 years. After immigrating to Canada from Russia (by way of England) in 1923, de Grandmaison spent much of his life touring around the prairies, painting the people he met. De Grandmaison was well-known and beloved in this area, and before his death in 1978 he was made an Honourary Chief of the Peigan Nation.

The 67 pastel portraits are part of a portfolio of 100 works by Nicholas de Grandmaison that were purchased by BMO in 1978 from the artist's family after his death.

University of Lethbridge President Mike Mahon says the portraits gifted by BMO Financial Group are of special significance due to the fact that de Grandmaison created most of his work in southern Alberta capturing the individual histories and personalities of those he painted.

"I find it fascinating that the communities Nicholas de Grandmaison was passionate about are the same communities the University remains passionate about today," says Mahon. "The University of Lethbridge takes seriously what it means to be entrusted with these cultural treasures, and we look forward to sharing these works with our students, our community, our country and beyond in future initiatives."

Director/Curator of the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Dr. Josephine Mills, says the gallery is already contemplating the many opportunities that will arise from this gift.

"I am excited to present an exhibition of the portraits in May and to work on further possibilities for exhibitions and research with the works from BMO and our existing collection of de Grandmaison artwork and archives," says Mills. "Future projects include conducting an oral history project about the artist and the First Nations subjects in the portraits as well as commissioning First Nations artists to produce new work in response to the BMO donation. This generous gift will significantly enhance our collection, exhibitions, and public programs and thus be an excellent resource for our community."

Included in the gift is $50,000 to care for and create access to the works. Mills says an oral history project that focuses on the artist and sitters will be created and that the gallery will commission Aboriginal artists to create a response to the works. The money will also be used to showcase the works nationally and possibly internationally.

The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery houses one of the most significant art collections in Canada. Numbering over 14,000 objects, the holdings include works from Canada, America and Europe, span the 19th and 20th centuries and continue to grow with 21st century additions. The gallery's major strength is the diversity of the collection, which not only represents a wide range of geographic locations, but also the full spectrum of media, artistic movements and genres.

The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery has scheduled an exhibition of selected works from the BMO gift from May 2 to June 27, 2013.