The Robert McLaughlin Gallery is in the treaty lands of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation. This land has been the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg since 1700; before that time, it was stewarded by various communities belonging to the Haudenosaunee and Wendat confederacies. It is covered under the Williams Treaties and the Dish with One Spoon Wampum.
This area continues to be home to many Indigenous people from across Mishiike Minisi. We recognize the sovereignty of all Indigenous nations and are grateful for the opportunity to learn, live, and work on this land.
We acknowledge that the RMG is in treaty land, and respect our collective responsibility to protect and nurture the land. We also recognize the continuing impacts of colonialism and our responsibilities to redress the ways this has helped shape our organization. We are committed to working to address structural inequities and to centering Indigenous voices in the gallery.
The original gallery was built in 1969 on its present location under the guidance of architect Hugh Allward of Allward & Gouinlock. It was a square, stone, modernist structure allowing for 6000 feet of exhibition space, offices and vault storage.
In 1987, a $5.4 million dollar expansion was commissioned and Arthur Erickson, renowned for his love of natural light and materials, was secured to add 36,000 square feet to meet the growing needs of the RMG and the community. Erickson built his design around the existing structure, incorporating the original stone façade into the dramatic lobby design which is flooded with natural light, skylights and soaring 35 foot ceilings.
The RMG was founded in 1967 after Oshawa designer William Caldwell organized an exhibition of work by local artists at a commercial space on Simcoe Street. Seeing the need for a more permanent home for the arts, Ewart McLaughlin and his wife Margaret (painter Alexandra Luke) offered major financial support and works from their own private collection toward the establishment of an expanded public art gallery for the City of Oshawa.
The gallery was incorporated with name of Robert, founder of The McLaughlin Carriage Company, grandfather of Ewart, and father of Col. R.S.(Sam) McLaughlin (General Motors of Canada). Isabel McLaughlin, an important modernist painter and cousin of Ewart, also became a life long patron of the gallery. A founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters, she provided ongoing generous financial support as well as significant gifts of over 100 works of important Canadian and international works.
In 1952, Alexandra Luke organized an exhibition of abstract Canadian art that opened in Oshawa at Adelaide House in October. The collection had the distinction of being the first exhibition of abstract painting to be assembled in Canada, by Canadian artists, on a national scale and devoted exclusively to this art form.
Soon after, Simpson’s Department store in Toronto sponsored an exhibition of abstract and non-objective paintings under the title Abstracts at Home. Seven artists participated in this: Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, and William Ronald.
As a result of the Abstracts at Home exhibition, the seven artists came together and discussed the possibility of showing their work as a group. They held their first meeting at Alexandra Luke’s lakeside studio in Oshawa, and also invited Jock Macdonald, Harold Town, Walter Yarwood, and Hortense Gordon. It was there that the eleven artists decided to call themselves ‘Painters Eleven’. They held their first exhibition under that name in February of 1954 at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto.
The RMG proudly holds Canada’s largest collection of works by Painters Eleven, primarily as a result of significant donations to the permanent collection by Alexandra Luke. The gallery regularly has Painters Eleven exhibitions and remains committed to expanding this part of our collection.
Isabel McLaughlin was born in Oshawa, in the early years calling the Parkwood Estate home and later lived in Toronto. She was the third daughter of Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin, the president of General Motors of Canada from 1918 to 1945. Counted among her friends were fellow artists Alexandra Luke (married to her cousin Ewart McLaughlin) Yvonne McKague Housser, Lawren Harris and writer Timothy Findlay.
McLaughlin was highly educated; studying in Paris (1921-1924), at the Ontario College of Art (1925-1927) where she studied under Arthur Lismer, at the Arts Student’s League in Toronto (1927-1928), and at the Scandinavian Academy in Paris (1929-1930). She was influenced by the Group of Seven and was invited to contribute to a number of their exhibitions. In 1933, McLaughlin became a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters, an artistic group which was founded after the Group of Seven had been disbanded, and became the president from 1937 to 1944. Furthermore, McLaughlin was also a member of the Ontario Society of Artists from 1963 onwards.
McLaughlin is considered one of Canada’s most important modernist painters and transformed nature into art by relying on pattern. Her work is characterized by an extraordinary ability to design.
Isabel McLaughlin made a substantial donation of artwork from her own personal collection of works by other prominent Canadian artists of the 20th century to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, as well as books to the RMG Library and substantial monetary donations for building expansion and exhibition programming. Canadian art history has been greatly influenced by her generous gifts of papers and books to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery and Queen’s University Archives, Kingston. Her philanthropy and patronage were not limited to the arts and among the many honours she received throughout her extraordinary life are the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario.
Alexandra Luke (Margaret McLaughlin) was an important artist linked to the beginnings of abstract painting in Canada and a founding member of Painters Eleven, Ontario’s first abstract painting group (1953-1960).
Born Margaret Alexandra Luke in Montreal, the Luke family, who had a long history with Oshawa, returned to this city in 1914. She graduated as a nurse in 1924 from the Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C., and returned again to Oshawa. Widowed with a son in 1926, she remarried Clarence Ewart McLaughlin in 1928 and had a daughter in 1930.
Always interested in the arts, Luke did not begin formal training until 1928, when she began working with Jan Ampel. Although she was not producing abstract work, she was drawn to it by 1933, and started experimenting with it in 1945. She was highly influenced by J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and also by American abstract artist Hans Hofmann, under whom she studied for three summers between 1947 and 1950.
Aleen Aked was an accomplished artist, an expert golfer, and a woman with a strong sense of the history and culture of the places she lived, especially her summer home and studio just north of Tyrone, Ontario. Her family came from Yorkshire, England, and she grew up and went to school in the Toronto area where she lived with her parents. As a young woman, she showed early abilities in both athletics and art.
She was one of the talented youngsters discovered by Arthur Lismer who sponsored and encouraged children’s involvement in art through Saturday classes. She was admitted to the Ontario College of Art at a young age and studied painting with Lismer, Fred Varley, G.A. Reid, A.Y. Jackson, Fred Haines, and J.W. Beatty. In 1917 she was the first Junior Girl’s Golf Champion, Ladies Golf Club in Toronto, and also the Club Champion from 1933-36. She was First Ladies Captain in 1931 when lady members were admitted formerly to a man’s club in Toronto.
Throughout her long life, Aked maintained a rigorous practice in painting and gained experience in both Canada and the U.S. from her involvement in artist workshops and artist organizations. She exhibited regularly in Canada at the Canadian National Exhibition and the Royal Canadian Academy. Her hundreds of drawings and paintings demonstrate a traditional disciplined naturalism in style and an interest in subjects close-to-home. Her art was closely circumscribed by what was important to her: parents, friends, places she lived and visited. She did not pursue a typical career in art, that is, her work was not something she saw as important for the “art world”. Her life and her work were one; several of her friends observed that her paintings were “her children” and she would not have parted with them.
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