Saturday, November 05, 2016

McCord Museum - William Notman



November 4, 2016 - March 26, 2017

This is a major exhibition on the life and work of William Notman (1826-1891), a Montrealer, who was crucial in pioneering photography in Canada, and who was the first Canadian photographer to obtain an international recognition. His body of work, that ranged  from portraits to the landscapes that spanned Canada from east to west, helped in esyablishing the Canadian identity.

The exhibition features some 300 photographs and objects drawn primarily from the McCord Museum collection. It offers a new perspective on Notman's career and examines how the artist’s character contributed to his tremendous success. It also reveals his contemporary approach to photography, founded on the principles of communication, management and innovation.

The exhibition focuses on vintage prints, supplementing with multimedia installations and interactive devices that provide dynamic information and help clarify nineteenth-century idea of modernity.

“In 1956, the McCord Museum received the Notman Photographic Archives, now emblematic of our institution,” stated Suzanne Sauvage, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Museum. “Sixty years later, his work is more relevant than ever. From 1860 to 1900, this talented artist stood apart through his documentation of both the birth of Canada as a nation and the history of Montreal, which at the time was playing a pivotal role in the development of the country. Our goal is to pay fair tribute to him during this period of celebration by dedicating an exhibition to him and publishing a catalogue of his works.”

The exhibition is divided into four themes inspired by Notman’s career as a businessmen as a builder, his networking proficiency, and his artistic contribution.

A Scot by birth, William Notman left his home country for Canada in 1856 at the age of 30, when the family’s haberdashery business fell on hard times. Accompanied by his wife and children and confident of a brighter future, he arrived in Montreal, a dynamic and flourishing city at that time. Notman quickly learned the importance of establishing a network of influential men and had soon connected with an elite group who helped to propel his success. He went on to secure a commission to photograph the construction of the Victoria Bridge, a remarkable engineering project for its time that played a strategic role in the economic growth of Montreal. A selection of his photographs, in a maple box, was given to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales who inaugurated the bridge, in 1860.

Notman saw photography as an art form, not a widely held view at the ttime as the artistic value of photography was only acknowledged in the 20th century. He broke down the barriers between photography and painting with his painted photographs, composites, and studied stagings. His approach opened the door to the creative manipulation of photographic images. For Notman, photography was a new way to express one’s individual and collective identity, and he actively contributed to democratizing the portrait, photographing everyday people along with celebrities, First Nations peoples, trappers and voyageurs.

Notman never hesitated to apply state-of-the-art photographic processes, a reflection of his ability to anticipate future developments in the field. Examples include stereography, which allowed photographs to be viewed in three dimensions, and composite, the precursor of Photoshop. He was constantly innovating, and in doing so he helped advance the birth of technologies that enabled images to be widely replicated and circulated. Through the publication of his works – he was a leader in publishing photography books – he shared his vision and promoted photography as an art form. His efforts in this area marked the beginning of the widespread dissemination of images and helped forge the modern-day bond between the print world and visual culture. He was a regular participant in international competitions and world’s fairs, winning a number of awards over the course of his career.

Notman’s advanced management methods and astute communication skills made his name known far and wide. A true entrepreneur, he managed his firm so well that in 1872 he was operating 26 franchised studios in Canada and the United States. Upon his death, the Notman Studio, named Studio Wm. Notman & Son in 1882, continued to do business until 1935, managed by his sons William McFarlane Notman and Charles Frederick Notman.

McCord Museum's Notman Collection is one of the largest collections of its kind in Canada. It contains the archives of the Montreal studio, representing some 450,0000 photographs, including 200,000 glass plate negatives, portraits, landscapes and stereoscopic shots, all of which carry enormous historical value. The Notman collection also comprises 188 photo registers and 43 client directories from the Montreal studio as well as 15 books published by William Notman, some 300 painted photos, composite photos, photographic material and a number of documents, including correspondence between Notman and family members in Scotland. The collection is also constantly enriched through donations from individuals, families and collectors. For researchers and historians, it is an inexhaustible source on the history of Montreal from 1859 to 1935.

A book on William Notman and his work, entitled Notman, A Visionary Photographer, was produced for the exhibition through the support of Power Corporation du Canada. A definitive study of the artist, this 240 page hard cover publication contains 150 illustrations and essays by photographic historians and archivists, experts on Notman. It can be purchased at the McCord Museum Boutique.

Films, lectures and conversations are offered, in relation with the exhibition. For the schedule.  wisit the McCord Museum website's activities page.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the McCord Museum will invite the public to enter the Notman contest at the Museum. The prize, valued at approximately $6,000 and offered courtesy of Via Rail, will include a package to Vancouver for two people (The Canadian), departing from Montreal or Toronto, as well as the exhibition’s book.

Notman, A Visionary Photographer is produced, planned and presented by the McCord Museum. Hélène Samson, Curator, Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum, is curating the exhibition. Following its stay in Montreal, it will travel to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

Click on images to enlarge them.
Hover your mouse over images for description and credits.

For more information, visit the McCord Museum website.

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