This post will deal with three private art collectors in Saskatchewan whose collections became the basis of three separate public art gallery collections in the province. I will look at other collectors or collecting bodies in a post entitled Saskatchewan Art Patrons prior to 1950.
Two of the collectors here are very well known because their names grace the collections they donated to the public — Norman Mackenzie (1869 -1936) and Frederick S. Mendel (1888 -1976) The other collector was someone I came across only in the pages of the newspapers — William S. Grayson (1856-1926). Based on what I found there, it seems that Grayson’s art collection was donated to the city of Moose Jaw in the late 1930s to form the basis of a public art collection. I have been unable to confirm whether this plan came to fruition through online research but perhaps someone from Moose Jaw knows about the history of the disposition of Grayson’s collection and can confirm that it did, indeed, form the basis of the Moose Jaw Art Museum’s collection. The Moose Jaw Art Gallery’s website does not contain a history of the museum or their collection but I have seen mention of this institution dating back to 1967, so it would be interesting to know how the gallery evolved.
Norman Mackenzie’s art collection, built before the mid 1930s, was focused on European old master paintings and world antiques. He also collected contemporary Canadian art, particularly Saskatchewan art. Frederick S. Mendel’s collection was of a later date and focused on modern European art and North American art. William S. Grayson’s collection was the oldest and focused on late 19th century and early twentieth century northern European and North American painting, what would have been considered modern art in his own day.
Who was William S. Grayson? These newspaper articles published in Regina’s Morning Leader should provide the answer to that question. Jun 9, 1926, Jun 10, 1926, Jun 14, 1926. The last article dwells on his many accomplishments and includes a statement about his collection of paintings. More information about his collection can be found in a couple of articles published after his death. Mrs. Grayson held a Liberal party tea at her home in 1934 and the reporter dwelt to some extent upon the content of the Grayson gallery of paintings on display. May 21, 1934 Leader-Post. In 1937 an announcement was made that the Grayson painting collection, comprising some 130 pieces, was being donated to the city of Moose Jaw with the proviso that a suitable exhibition space be provided. This article also provided some information on the nature of the collection. Apr. 22, 1937 Star-Phoenix. Apr. 27, 1937 Leader Post mentions that the matter was being discussed by the city of Moose Jaw. and a later one suggests that plans for the art gallery went ahead. May 11, 1937, Leader Post, because a board of management for the collection was formed.
What happened after that regarding the progress of the Moose Jaw Art Gallery is a mystery, as I have no access to published histories of Moose Jaw or editions of the Moose Jaw newspaper. I hope that someone reading this might be spurred on to investigate further. In the 1930s Grayson’s collection might have looked a little out of fashion, with its Anton Mauves and 19th Century paintings, but any collection of carefully selected paintings would be a boon to starting an art gallery in Saskatchewan at that time. William S. Grayson doesn’t deserve the obscurity into which he has fallen.
Norman Mackenzie, whose collection forms the basis of today’s eponymously named gallery in Regina, is much better known. The gallery has published a number of catalogues over the years which detail aspects of his collecting and his biography. Like Grayson, Mackenzie was a pioneer lawyer in Saskatchewan who amassed enough money to collect art as a hobby. Mackenzie bequeathed his extensive collection to his home city in the hope that a gallery would be erected to house it, possibly inspiring the Grayson family to do the same with their inherited art collection soon after.
I have found a number of articles related to Norman Mackenzie, which focus on his biography and give an excellent idea of his personality and his place in early Regina society. His obituary is a good place to start. Jan. 3, 1936 Leader Post. For early assessments of his importance as an art collector, there are a couple of editorials in the Regina newspaper: Sep. 26, 1953 & Nov. 25, 1957 Leader Post.
Because Mackenzie lived in Regina for a long time and because he also had a profile as being the first Western Canadian to be appointed to the board of trustees of Canada’s National Gallery (1925-1935), he was a bit of a “player” in contemporary art politics in the province. Correspondence exists between he and Walter Murray, first president of the University of Saskatchewan, showing this. In 1925 the two arranged for a first group showing of Saskatchewan art outside the province in Toronto at Hart House. It was an exhibit provided by Saskatchewan art collectors, including Mackenzie and the University. In 1928 Mackenzie formed the Saskatchewan Art Association, attempting to oversee all representative art activities in the province with a cabal of Regina Photo: 1913 Saskatchewan history book by F.N. Black businessmen who were also art collectors. For more information on this organization see my post Assorted Regina Art Clubs 1920s-1950.
He did, however, manage to keep a low profile in the press. Feb. 4, 1915, May 8 & 10, 1934 Leader Post are about all I could find on his art activities. He did speak at the opening of an exhibition by Regina artist Harriette Keating (see her bio) but he seems to have been reticent to get involved as a speaker in the doings of various local art clubs. There a a couple of mentions of him showing his art collection to the public Jan. 22, 1923 & Apr. 11 & Apr. 17, 1925. On both occasions, the proceeds from the event were destined for charities. However, Mackenzie did involve himself in obtaining travelling exhibitions from the National Gallery for the city of Regina’s annual summer fairs for many years. Some evidence of this will be found on my future post on Regina summer fairs.
While he was alive Mackenzie had bought land, planning to build a bigger structure than his own home to house his collection. Straitened economic times in Regina prevented this from happening before his death. His 1936 will, which bequeathed both his art collection and money to the University of Saskatchewan, had strings attached which were to benefit his home city of Regina, resulting in the formation in 1936 of the University of Saskatchewan owned Regina School of Fine Arts at Regina College. Owing to the depression and the onset of World War II and its aftermath, the Norman Mackenzie Gallery did not actually open as a separate entity until 1953 when a purpose built gallery was constructed.
Original 1953 Mackenzie Gallery – photo found at Saskatchewan History online website. This structure was shortly added to in 1957 with a Massey design prize-winning addition. More information about this initial gallery can be found at Aug. 22, 1952 RLP
Author’s note: I cannot find anything online visually which physically situates this older building, as the present-day Mackenzie Gallery is no longer situated there and not part of the University any longer. I remember seeing the 1957 era gallery as a young girl when I went to singing lessons at Darke Hall (Regina College) so I believe it must have been attached to either that building or one adjacent to it. I left Regina when I was 12 and never lived there again for any length of time so my memory is vague.
Norman Mackenzie and J. Purves Carter
One aspect of Mackenzie’s career as a collector has been dealt with in a number of publications but I think my newspaper research may add a bit to what is known.
I have seen mention of J.Purves Carter in almost everything that has been written on the subject of Norman Mackenzie, Regina’s premiere historical art collector. For an online example see: http://www.sknac.ca/index.php?page=ArticlesDetail&id=33
In most of the literature Carter is portrayed as a slightly shady character who may have duped Mackenzie, a collector in the “wilderness.” However, I think that more credit should be given to both Mackenzie and Carter based on what I have uncovered in newspaper articles in Regina and writings by Carter all available now on the Internet Archive website.
The National Portrait Gallery in London’s has a section in their website on Research which includes biographies of British Picture Restorers
There is a very interesting entry for J. Purves Carter, who was born Joseph Henry Carter in 1862 in London and died in Florence, Italy in 1937. The gist of the rather long entry is that Carter misrepresented his age and changed his name when he first went to North America around 1900. Researchers have found that he also misrepresented his background and “stretched” the list of clients in his resume.
James Purves Carter (as he was known in Canada) was a painter, art restorer and picture dealer. According to evidence and to his own promotional material, he was a cataloguer and a man who was out to make picture dealing an honest business by uncovering the many frauds that were committed in the multitude of art transactions going on in the late 19th and early 20th century. If you look at a history of Laval University’s art collection website, http://www.ameriquefrancaise.org/en/article-295/The_Legacy_of_the_S%C3%A9minaire_de_Qu%C3%A9bec_Collections:__an_Account_of_the_History_of_French_Speaking_North_America.html
you will find that there are no aspersions cast upon his name there. He worked on the collection for several years and published its first catalogue.
He was hired to do work on various public and private collections based on his references, some of which were concocted or embellished to make him a more attractive hire. While he may have made misattributions in his practice, like anyone involved in this kind of work, there is no indication that he did this out of any intention to defraud anyone. Take a look at these writings by Carter and the list of references in the back of his booklet on the Torrigiani Academy, which includes Norman Mackenzie’s name. If Mackenzie was duped, he was in good company because Carter worked for many other important private collectors in North America and Europe in the early years of the twentieth century, not all of whose patronage could have been invented.
The Great Picture Frauds 1908 at
Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Paintings in the Gallery of Laval University, Quebec, 1909 at
A lecture upon the art and art treasures at Laval University delivered before l’Association des anciens élèves et gradué s de l’Université Laval, à Québec”, the Honorable representative of His Excellency the Governor-General, Sir Charles Fitzpatrick and the Elite of Québec, at Laval University, June 14th, 1909 (1909) at
The Torrigiani Academy founded by J. Purves Carter, n.d. (possibly written in 1920s) at
It is evident that Norman Mackenzie came into contact with J. Purves Carter through Regina’s Monsignor Olivier Mathieu, the man who had hired Carter to work on Laval University’s collection in Quebec City when he was rector there. Mathieu came to Regina in 1911 to take charge of the new Holy Rosary Cathedral and quickly rose to the position of archbishop of the diocese. Mathieu was an ardent art collector, like Mackenzie, and I have no doubt that Mackenzie heard of Carter’s talents from Mathieu. He was probably introduced to him in 1915 when Carter visited Regina. Mackenzie later made contact with him while they were both in Italy. See: Aug. 29, 1912, Jun 7, 1915, Nov. 22, 1917. Morning Leader
Apart from advising and obtaining art for Mathieu and Mackenzie, Carter appears to have been involved in arrangements for Saskatchewan’s Lt. Gov. George W. Brown to obtain a portrait of himself painted by Hubert von Herkomer, a highly esteemed British portrait artist. Brown donated his portrait to the Legislative Assembly collection in 1915. (Jun 25, 1915 Morning Leader) Brown also procured a painting by the Italian artist Albani from Carter about this time, which he donated to Regina College in 1919.( Feb. 4, 1919 Morning Leader) Brown had formerly been Mackenzie’s law partner and probably trusted Mackenzie’s judgment, However this 1943 general report I found in the Leader-Post on the Saskatchewan legislature building suggests that von Herkomer’s portrait of Brown may not have been totally completed by the old portraitist. (Apr. 3, 1943). An image of it can viewed at this website which shows the portraits of the lieutenant governors of Saskatchewan. Its URL is https://www.flickr.com/photos/127001001@N07/14959376926/in/set-72157646657266431
I think these few connections will add further context to any discussions about the relationship between Norman Mackenzie and J. Purves Carter that appear in future. Mackenzie was an astute man and even though he was situated in Regina, a small centre with no major art dealers, he was no more of a country bumpkin or naif than many other North American collectors of Renaissance and Baroque European art who lived in his era. He was an informed collector and certainly exhibited his talents as a connoisseur when it came to collecting Saskatchewan art.
The third collector to be dealt with here is from a younger generation than the Saskatchewan pioneers Grayson and Mackenzie. Frederick S. Mendel was also from a different cultural background and began his collecting before immigrating to Saskatchewan from Europe at the onset of World War II. Although much of his history in Saskatchewan goes beyond 1950, his residence in Saskatoon and his art collection had an immediate impact. He was profiled by the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix soon after he arrived and set up his substantial Saskatoon business, Intercontinental Packers. Jan. 29, 1941 SSP. There is also an online version of Mendel’s memoir The Book and Life of a Little Man published in the early 1970s which covers the events of his unusual life.
As an active Canadian art collector Fred Mendel and his artist daughter Eva Mendel Miller became quickly engaged with the Saskatoon Art Association and the Saskatoon Art Centre in the 1940s and he began to support local artists, like William Perehudoff, through commissions. Jan. 2, 1947, SSP depiction of artists at Mendel’s 1946 New Year’s party at the packing plant.
In autumn 1949, the first art gallery hanging of the Mendel collection was done by the Saskatoon Art Centre. Oct. 26, 1949, Oct. 29 (scroll down) & Oct. 29, 1949 & Nov. 5, 1949 SSP. In 1955 a national tour of 65 paintings from Mendel’s collection started in Regina at the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery. Mar.8, Mar. 11 & Mar. 14 Leader-Post. The full collection of 250 works had been catalogued by University of Saskatchewan art historian Gordon W. Snelgrove and a partial catalogue accompanied the exhibition on its tour.
On my Early Saskatchewan art history? page (see banner), you will find more information about the post 1950 openings of the Mackenzie and Mendel galleries and more perspective on these benefactors. These galleries now have long histories which they have documented themselves in a number of fascinating publications.
Many Saskatchewan art collectors and artists have generously added to these collections over time. In my next post I will address many lesser known art patrons in Saskatoon and Regina in the earlier years of the province and some art collections created in the public name through their actions.
©Lisa G. Henderson