National Gallery celebrates anonymous gift of 635 photographs by American Paul Strand

The National Gallery of Canada

The American Paul Strand is part of a small group of artists, including Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston who helped turn  photography as an art form in the early 20th century.

He was active for 60 years capturing numerous genres and subjects in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Now the a major donation of his work is finding a home in the the National Gallery’s Canadian Photography Institute.

Three anonymous Canadians are giving the CPI 635 photographs by Strand (1890-1976). The collection covers Strand’s career and represents all the major periods of his work, the gallery said in a media release. This includes images from his early  modernism in New York and from travels across the United States, Mexico, Quebec, Europe. and Africa. There are also photos  from his exploration of the gardens of his home in Orgeval, France.

Paul Strand, Beaching the Boat, Percé, Gaspésie, 1929, printed 1960s, gelatin silver print.
Gift of anonymous donors, 2017. © Aperture Foundation, Inc., Paul Strand Archive.
Photo: NGC

The donation means CPI has the most significant collection of  Strand photographs in Canada, the gallery said.

“As a shaper of ideas and practices in photography, the historical, and aesthetic significance of Strand’s work will be of tremendous value to the collection,” said National Gallery of Canada head Marc Mayer, in the release. The CPI previously held 97 Strand images.

CPI’s senior curator of photographs, Ann Thomas says, “Paul Strand was one of the 20th century’s outstanding photographers. … He was an extremely exacting printmaker, testing out different printing methods, papers, and coatings. He brought together qualities of fine craftsmanship with a deep connection to content, which involved the natural world, simple everyday objects, and where and how people lived out their lives in a diverse range of countries and cultures.”

The images donated to CPI are in two main categories: The artist’s years in the Americas (1916-1949) and abroad (1949-1976).

“Strand had a very strong influence over a younger generation of photographers, including prominent Canadian contemporary photographers Robert Bourdeau, who counts Paul Strand among the most influential figures in shaping his decision to become a photographer, and Bertrand Carrière, who followed in his footsteps in the Gaspé.” Both Bourdeau and Carrière are represented in the CPI collection, said Thomas in the release.

Strand was born Nathaniel Paul Stransky in New York City in 1890. During his career, he traveled extensively, including to the Gaspé, the Southwest and Northeast of the United States, Mexico, the Hebrides, Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, France, Italy, and Romania. He moved to Orgeval, France, in the 1950s and died there in 1976.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.