The Collectors’ Cosmos. The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection provides a glimpse into the richness of the print collection belonging to Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran. The exhibition features 232 works selected by the exhibition’s curator, Erika Dolphin, Interim Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Canada.
The exhibition focuses on the strength of the collection, the Dutch and Flemish sixteenth and seventeenth-century landscape and genre scenes including prints by Rembrandt. However, it also highlights the breadth of collection with works by important Northern European printmakers such as Albrecht Dürer, Pieter Brueghel, and Jacob van Ruisdael, as well as nineteenth-century artists including Jean-François Millet and James McNeill Whistler, and modern artists, such as Alex Colville, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Riopelle. What links them all is a fascination with the creative possibilities of the printed line, the play of light and dark, as well as an interest in the nature and the world of ideas. Visitors will see, for example, Jusepe de Ribera’s The Poet, ca. 1620–1621, which embodies values important to Dr. Meakins and Dr. McClaran, namely, finding time for reflection and the importance of the arts in life.
“The exhibition presents wonderful gems from the Meakins-McClaran collection. The works address themes about life, the universe and the world we live in. You don’t have to be a specialist to appreciate the wide range of timeless subjects covered in this exhibition. A little curiosity and time to examine the works is all that is needed. I hope our visitors will be moved by what they see,” said Dr. Erika Dolphin, curator of the exhibition The Collectors’ Cosmos. The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection, and Interim Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Canada,
Both collectors’ interest in nature provides a strong underlying current in the collection, something discerned not only in the colorful depictions of animals by the naturalist John James Audubon, famous for his Birds of America, but also in the Northern European landscapes that take pride of place in the collection and in the exhibition. On view are early landscapes of vast largely imaginary panoramas, a type perfected by Pieter Bruegel, as well as later seventeenth-century examples that show more realistic views of the Dutch flatlands, towns and villages. Two of many such highlights are The Anglers, ca. 1647, an etching by Adriaen van Ostade, and The Three Oaks, 1649 an etching by Jacob van Ruisdael.
The collection includes a number of allegorical works as well, especially several by the versatile artist and engraver Hendrick Goltzius working at the end of the sixteenth century. These prints attempt to make visible and understandable abstract notions of the nature of time, life and death, myth, religion, science, knowledge and the configuration of the universe. In the The Four Elements, 1588, for example, visitors can have fun finding and identifying Earth, Air, Water and Fire personified as ancient gods. Other examples are rooted in a more earthly reality of the contemporary Dutch life, as seen in a series of prints of the four times of the day, also by Goltzius, which illustrate daily household activities when time was ruled by the sun and the stars. Here we see a glimmer of a Northern European penchant for the subject of everyday life. The exhibition includes a number of genre scenes, especially those with a comedic strain that revels in the antics and foibles of rustic types.
No collection of Dutch prints would be complete without Rembrandt, one of the most talented etchers of all time. The collectors own nine, and seven are on view in the exhibition (the other two can be found in Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition). Rembrandt excelled at capturing emotion through gesture and evoking a palpable mood with the subtle manipulation of light and dark, as is vividly demonstrated in Christ and the Woman of Samaria, 1657-1658.