I can't recommend enough visiting the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, for any Visual Artist, especially if they need some sort of boost to lift their painting spirits. Most Artists will tell you that there are peaks and valleys for us all. No two years are the same, there are ups and downs. We all have them. Seeing in person the Masterworks of Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Degas, The Group of Seven, O'Keeffe, Dali, etc., makes the hair on my arms stand straight up. Those paintings have incredible presence. Taking your time to admire Masterpieces up close in detail, the brush strokes, the layers of paint, surely will make any Artist want to run to their easel. I'm sure it's also hard for most Artists to choose a favourite from what hangs on that beautiful building's walls, but for me it's not hard, it's Robert Harris. I was introduced to his paintings at a young age by my Dad at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Robert Harris showed me that a painter from my small town could make it as an Artist. You could create art that would be revered forever, and it made me dream of one day maybe being an Artist myself. I just love his style, and so many of his works, but I think "A Meeting of the School Trustees" holds a special place for some reason. Maybe it's because it hangs along side all of those other Masters. I don't know, that's what great art does.
I looked for it room after room, until I turned a corner, and there it was. This is the second time I have seen it in person, and I've admired it in books for years. It makes me feel as though I'm walking into that room, and one of the figures is about to move. It's an intense energy. The size was shocking again, it's larger than I remembered. This was the first time I've seen the masterpiece since it was freshly restored two years ago. The treatment was performed by a fellow Islander NGC Assistant Conservator of Paintings, Tasia Bulger, and she did an incredible job. The removal of the thick, discoloured varnish layer, restoring the overall colours and tones of the work as it would have appeared 134 years ago.
Varnish removal also revealed an inscription on the slate, which hasn't been visible since it's last restoration in 1923. It reads: “ool Trustees” (likely “School Trustees”) “Meeting” and “day next.” I just love those kind of details.
2019 marks 100 years since we lost Robert Harris, but his legacy will live on forever in his work. I truly hope there are young Artists still being inspired to paint by him in another 100 years, as I was 45 years ago as a boy, and I was again last week. His aura is still all around his work. Artist or not, if you visit The National Gallery, or your local Gallery, and really take a good look at any of the Masters, it will lift your spirits too. Harris faced his challenges as well in the 1870's in the Art world, but he kept on painting. I cannot wait to stretch some linen, to mix and move some paint, to create something new, and create my best work. Thanks to The National Gallery of Canada and Robert Harris, I'm rising to the easel out of that valley, and I can't wait to see what's on the other side.
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