21 November 2007

New Brunswick Museum Accepts Donation of Important Canadian Painting

Moreira FamilyThe New Brunswick Museum recently added a painting by nineteenth century New Brunswick artist Thomas MacDonald to its permanent collection. The watercolour Samuel L Tilley, Was Born May 1818 & Elizabeth Ann Tilley, Was Born Decr 1819, was painted in 1825-1831. The donation was made by Tilley's great-granddaughter, Judith Moreira of Halifax.

One of the most published examples of MacDonald's works and arguably the most significant, this painting is an exceptional image of New Brunswick children of the early nineteenth century and a particularly rare image of one of Canada's Fathers of Confederation.

Samuel Leonard TilleySamuel Leonard Tilley (1818-1896) was one of Canada's foremost Confederation-era politicians. In addition to being New Brunswick's Provincial Secretary (equivalent to today's Premier), Tilley was Customs Minister in Canada's first parliament under Sir John A. Macdonald and held a number of other portfolios, including Finance Minister. His political career is notable as well since on two separate occasions he served as Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick.

The artist, Thomas MacDonald, was born in late 1784 or 1785 and was buried at Gagetown, New Brunswick, in 1862. He was probably the province's first native-born artist to be working in the lower St. John River valley during the early nineteenth century. His work is particularly fascinating because it documents the increasingly prosperous residents of rural New Brunswick between 1815 and 1835. Curator of New Brunswick Cultural History and Art, Peter Larocque, comments that MacDonald is known for his careful observation of detail relating to fashions in clothing and hairstyle as well as the furnishings and decoration of interiors. Larocque says “This work represents the efforts of a self-taught or locally-trained artist who appears to have some familiarity with portraiture. Interestingly, his work may have been influenced by British-born and trained artist, Anthony Flower (1792-1875), who settled nearby in Queens County, New Brunswick.”

As an example of early nineteenth century vernacular art, Thomas MacDonald's work has received a significant amount of attention over the past forty years. Jane Fullerton, Director of the New Brunswick Museum, expressed thanks to Judith Moreira for her generous donation, noting that “many items of national and international importance are part of the Museum's collection. This painting has been included in national exhibitions that have helped to define Canadian identity.”

The New Brunswick Museum's collection of approximately 1500 pieces of New Brunswick art provides the best historical overview of the work of artists practicing in the province. In the collection, there are currently only about twenty-five works of New Brunswick art on paper that date between 1800 and 1830 and these represent the work of less than half a dozen artists. Many images of the province and its citizens of this period were produced by itinerant artists, especially military personnel who were stationed here for short periods, or paintings were brought back by New Brunswick citizens from the United States or Europe. Therefore, this donation significantly augments the New Brunswick Museum's ability to visually represent this early period of the province's history. The New Brunswick Museum houses two other works by Thomas MacDonald, Justus Earle and Ann Lawrence Earle, both painted in 1820. Other examples of MacDonald's work, a relative rarity, can be found in the following public collections: Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Queens County Museum, the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick and Library and Archives Canada.

The Archives & Research Library of the New Brunswick Museum houses one of the most significant collections of archival material relating to Samuel Leonard Tilley.

For further information:

Peter Larocque, Curator, New Brunswick Cultural History and Art, (506) 643-2327

Wendy Martindale, Head, Community Services, (506) 643-2338