Paul Lang is leaving to run galleries in Alsace. Photo courtesy National Gallery of Canada.
The No. 2 person at the National Gallery of Canada is packing his bags and returning to his European home.
Paul Lang, the gallery’s deputy director and chief curator since 2011, will leave Ottawa March 16 to fill a position in Strasbourg, France. As of April 1, the dual French-Swiss citizen will take over as director of the Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg, which includes 10 museums around the city.
“Mr. Lang is from Alsace, France, where the museums are located, so he is returning to his roots,” a gallery spokesperson says.
Lang was curator for the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Genève in Switzerland before coming to Ottawa. He brought “impeccable credentials as an art historian,” National Gallery director Marc Mayer said in 2011, “an almost encyclopedic knowledge of neo-classical European art, a broad interest in material culture in general, a genuine interest in the success of his immediate colleagues and an ardent commitment to serving the public.”
The Globe and Mail got straight to the practical point by notingthat Lang had, “the kinds of close connections with top European galleries that would allow him to pick up the telephone and easily arrange loans of Old Masters.”
Mayer also noted Lang was “not coming here to be the boss of everybody,” but to be “the team leader.”
There’s no doubt that Lang became a popular addition, a tall, lanky and unfailingly amiable figure, with an endearing eagerness to talk about art, especially the Old Masters that he loved so much.
One of the first loans he arranged was “an absolute masterpiece,” the 1789 painting The Monuments of Paris, by Hubert Robert. It was late 2011 and he told me the painting was the first by the artist in the National Gallery, then he added, as gently as the softest brushstroke, “because I think, this gallery, for the French 18th century, without Hubert Robert doesn’t work.”
Lang provided to the National Gallery an essential and contrasting complement to Mayer’s interest in contemporary art, and the particular expertise of Lang’s successor will likely have a tremendous influence on the gallery’s acquisitions, loans and exhibition themes.
The National Gallery has not yet publicly announced Lang’s departure, nor spoken of a successor. Lang himself is holidaying in Strasbourg and was not available for an interview.
Peter Simpson, a native of Prince Edward Island, was arts editor and arts editor at large for the Ottawa Citizen for 15 years, with a focus on the visual arts. He lives in downtown Ottawa with one wife, two cats and more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures.