B.C. artist gives National Gallery $15,000 a year to buy new Canadian work

At 91 Takao Tanabe, is an established and well-collected painter and printmaker in Canada. But he had to work for it.

Born in 1926 in Prince Rupert, B.C., he is the son of a commercial fisherman and like many Japanese Canadians of his generation, Tanabe was interred during the Second World War by the Canadian government. But that experience did not deter him. After the war he studied art in Canada, Europe, the United States and Japan. He has worked as the head of the art program and as artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre. His work is in many important collections, including in the National Gallery of Canada, and now he wants to make sure young Canadian artists get the same chance.

So each year the National Gallery of Canada will receive $15,000 from Tanabe to recognize an up and coming Canadian artist through the purchase of their work for the national collection, it has been announced.

Takao Tanabe. Photo: Chick Rice

The Takao Tanabe Purchase Prize in Painting for Young Artists has so far given $30,000 for the purchase of works from lessLIE, a multimedia Coast Salish artist and Cynthia Girard-Renard, a visual artist and poet from Montreal. Both pieces are on view at the National Gallery of Canada.

National Gallery of Canada Director and CEO, Marc Mayer. “Through this partnership, we will be including outstanding work by our emerging generation into the national collection and make them available to the whole country.” said National Gallery

Takao Tanabe. Nude Landscape I, 1959. Oil on canvas, 101.5 x 84.5 cm. Gift of the artist, Parksville, British Columbia, 2000 National Gallery of Canada. Photo: NGC

of Canada Director and CEO, Marc Mayer in a media release.

Tanabe is known for minimalist landscapes. He is a member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2003) and the 2013 Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts. His paintings in the national collection include: Nude Landscape (1959), Meeting (1963), Envelope Sketch (1967), Shuttleworth Sunset (1997) and Dawn (2003) are in the National Gallery of Canada collection.

“When I was a young artist I was lucky enough to receive grants, including the Emily Carr Foundation Scholarship, which allowed me to go to Europe to study in 1953. Today, I can afford to help up-and-coming artists in a similar way, and it’s a great pleasure to be able to do so,” Tanabe said in the release.


lessLIE. wHOLE w(((h)))orl(((d))), 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 183 x 183 x 5.7 cm. Purchased 2016 through the generous support of the Takao Tanabe Purchase Prize in Painting for Young Artists in Canada. National Gallery of Canada. Photo: NGC

The works are selected by the Gallery’s curators and approved based on a set of criteria. Its first purchase is wHOLE w(((h)))orl(((d))) (2013) by lessLIE. He is a graduate of Malaspina University-College with a Bachelor of Arts in First Nations Studies. lessLIE focuses on Coast Salish iconography in his art, the release says. The painting on view in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries, is acrylic on canvas and depicts a human figure surrounded by wolves, salmon and thunderbirds.

Cynthia Girard-Renard’s work, No Foreigners (2016), depicts dogs, snakes, butterflies, snails and an architectural fortress. It may appear light-hearted but the work is a critical  commentary on anti-immigration rhetoric. The painting is featured in the 2017 Canadian Biennial exhibition in the Special Exhibitions Galleries until March 18.

The Takao Tanabe Purchase Prize will be administered by National Gallery of Canada Foundation. The next purchase will be announced in 2019.


Cynthia Girard-Renard. No Foreigners, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 274.4 cm. Purchased 2017 through the generous support of the Takao Tanabe Purchase Prize in Painting for Young Artists in National Gallery of Canada. Photo: NGC

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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.