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Fine arts in Vancouver, 1886-1930 : an historical survey Thom, William Wylie

Abstract

Canadians in recent years have become increasingly aware of their heritage. Entering into a new era of self confidence, they have been looking with greater interest at their past and discovering things of value in this heritage. This paper looks at a part of this past and examines the events from 1886 to 1930 which formed the background, and laid the foundations for Vancouver's later development as a lively and important art centre. This period is largely undocumented, its importance to the contemporary Vancouver art scene usually forgotten. Vancouver from its inception attracted more than its share of persons with education and vision, individuals who saw what the city was to become and who were prepared to give their time and interest to the work of fostering societies and institutions of a cultural nature including the early art societies. The focus here is on these societies and on the slow but continuing growth of art activity in Vancouver, showing the important role that these early groups played in creating an art environment and keeping alive a spirit of artistic endeavour when there was little general interest in the arts in the city. Consideration has been given to the individuals - artists, critics, educators - who were key figures in the genesis and form of artistic expression during the period, as well as to the social and cultural factors which to a large extent determined the direction which the fine arts took in Vancouver in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The emphasis throughout has been on the historical development, the object being to trace the growth of art in Vancouver through the individuals and the societies they formed. Most of the material has been obtained from primary sources, principally from the newspapers of the time, but also from the records of art societies, exhibition catalogues, letters and other documents, and from interviews with individuals who were close to the period. These sources reveal a surprising amount of art activity, they also point up the importance of this activity in establishing a climate of art in Vancouver from which those who followed have gained. The major accomplishments such as the formation of an art school and the founding of an art gallery had a direct bearing on the present and a broader picture of Vancouver art should be possible when the events of the present are set against the background of their historical precedents.

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