The McGill Visual Arts Collection (VAC) – a member of McGill University Libraries’ Rare and Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives (ROAAr) – includes more than three thousand works of art, spread across three campuses in more than ninety buildings. The Collection serves as a research resource, as campus enhancement, and as a laboratory for the training of students in art history and museum practice. It is also open to visitors through tours and a Visible Storage Gallery located on the fourth floor of the McLennan Library Building. The Collection is managed by Director of Curatorial Affairs Gwendolyn Owens and her team of professionals and interns.
The mandate of the McGill Visual Arts Collection is to catalyze the appreciation and understanding of works of art through firsthand engagement with original objects as well as to build and maintain a culturally and historically significant collection for future generations. In order to achieve this, the VAC is strongly committed to preserving, documenting, showcasing, and strengthening its collection.
One of the oldest art collecting institutions in North America, McGill University has been collecting art since the early 1830s. The artwork that inaugurated the Visual Arts Collection was a painted portrait of James McGill (1744-1813) produced by Louis Dulongpré (1759-1843). It was donated by his close friend and business partner, Thomas Blackwood (1773-1842). As the University expanded, so did the collection: plans for new buildings and renovations of older buildings included the commissioning of works of art such as reliefs, stained glass, and murals, all of them integral to the buildings themselves. In the 1960s, a large donation from Sidney Dawes (1888-1968), a prominent Montreal businessman and Canadian art enthusiast, further established the reputation of the collection as well as its specialization in Canadian Art. Since then, a multitude of donors have made substantial contributions, greatly expanding the range and the scope of the art in the Collection. At present, our vast collection is on view in public outdoor spaces, as well as in corridors, classrooms, and administrative spaces, where it enhances the teaching, research, and working environments of faculty, staff, students, and visitors. In 2013, the McGill Visual Arts Collection merged with McGill libraries and became part of the ROAAr unit.
Gregory Popov, McGill (Campus from McLennan Library), 1975, Pen and Ink Wash on Paper.
All efforts have been made to contact copyright holders.
The Visual Arts Collection is supported by its own endowment as well as by alumni and friends who believe in its mission. Various conservation projects, educational programs for students and young professionals, and new acquisitions of artworks are rendered possible by these generous donors. To contribute to the VAC please see Ways to Give.
McGill University is located on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. The McGill Visual Arts Collection honours, recognizes and respects these nations as the traditional stewards of the lands and waters on which we meet today. The VAC is committed to strengthening local contemporary Indigenous art practices in Canada and is actively working to increase the diversity and visibility of Indigenous art across all campuses.
Working Towards Meaningful Inclusion
The McGill Visual Arts Collection works closely with a number of other institutions in Quebec, namely Art Public Montréal, Canadian Heritage, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Les Journées de la culture, McCord Museum, and Nuit Blanche à Montréal.