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Obsession: Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics reunites renowned Canadian collection

2 years ago

Gardiner brings together top cultural institutions to showcase more than 350 objects

TORONTO—The Gardiner Museum has partnered with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, and private collectors to reunite for the first time what survives of the collection of Sir William Van Horne, the American-born builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway who became one of Canada’s foremost art collectors.

Curated by Ron Graham with Akiko Takesue, Obsession: Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics features more than 350 works of Japanese pottery alongside Van Horne’s own exacting watercolors, elaborately annotated notebooks, letters, and archival materials. Together, these artifacts offer a remarkable case study of the history of collecting in Canada.

Obsession: Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics is the nexus of many stories: how objects get obsessively collected, organized, and documented; a portrait of a hard-nosed business tycoon and arts patron; a period when Orientalism and colonial conquest informed the tastes of collectors; and a history of the brief, heady period when Montreal’s Golden Square Mile was one of the great centres of art consumption. Together, these threads weave the basis for a vivid and complex exhibition,” said Kelvin Browne, Gardiner Museum Executive Director and CEO.

The exhibition, designed by Hariri Pontarini Architecture, showcases Van Horne’s extensive collection of Japanese ceramics—including tea bowls, vases, sake bottles, and incense burners—and reveals the little-known obsession of one of the most prolific collectors in Canadian history.

Obsession: Sir William Van Horne’s Japanese Ceramics is organized by the Gardiner Museum in partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, with objects generously provided by the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The exhibition be on display from October 20, 2018 to January 20, 2019, and will travel to the Montreal Museum of Fine arts following its run at the Gardiner.


Insights: Obsession
Saturday October 20, 9 am – 12 pm
Co-curators Ron Graham and Akiko Takesue, alongside catalogue contributor Laura Vigo, Curator of Asian Arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, discuss the exhibition themes in this mini-symposium.

Watercolour Workshop
Tuesday October 30, 6 – 8 pm (Beginner)
Tuesday January 15, 6 – 8 pm (Intermediate)
Led by artist and illustrator Louise Reimer, these intimate in-gallery watercolour sessions take inspiration from Van Horne’s collection of Japanese ceramics.

Power and Possession: The Ethics of Collecting
Wednesday November 7, 6:30 – 8 pm
Hosted by CBC’s Sean O’Neill, this panel featuring artist Adrian Stimson, and curators Candice Hopkins and Mark Engstrom, delves into how issues of appropriation and repatriation are shifting how we frame and exhibit significant historical materials.

Institutional Critique Teach-In
Sunday November 11, 10 am – 4 pm
Saturday January 12, 12 – 3 pm
What does it mean to display a historical collection’s imperialist impulse? Artist Amy Wong leads this free open forum for artists, writers, organizers, and academics to unpack the complexities of demand for Queer, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (QBIPOC) arts labour to drive institutional critique.


The Gardiner Museum brings together people of all ages and communities through the shared values of creativity, wonder, and community that clay and ceramic traditions inspire.

The George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art was founded by Toronto businessperson and philanthropist George Gardiner and his wife Helen in 1984, and was established in a building designed by Keith Wagland on the campus of Victoria University in the University of Toronto. The Museum was managed by the Royal Ontario Museum from 1987 to 1996 and then, with an additional endowment from George Gardiner before his death in 1997, became and remains an independent, non-profit museum. The Gardiner’s remarkable building was substantially renovated in 2004 by KPMB Architects.

The Gardiner Museum’s collection of ceramics comprises approximately 4,000 objects, and focuses on specific areas which have been collected in depth. These include the most important collection of European porcelain in Canada, with particular strengths in Meissen, Vienna, and Hausmaler decorated porcelain, as well as a comprehensive collection of figures inspired by the commedia dell’arte. It holds the best collection of Italian Renaissance maiolica in Canada, and a superb collection of English tin-glazed pottery. The Gardiner preserves highly significant collections of ceramics from the Ancient Americas, Chinese blue and white porcelain, Japanese porcelain, and contemporary Canadian ceramics. It also houses a research library and archives, clay studios, award-winning Shop, and a restaurant.

The Gardiner Museum is among the few museums in the world focused on ceramics, and is one of the world’s most notable specialty museums. For more information, please visit: gardinermuseum.com.

Media Contact:

Rachel Weiner
Senior Manager, Marketing
Gardiner Museum

Publication Sponsor

Power Corporation of Canada

Exhibition Sponsor

CP Rail

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Exhibition Design Partner


Paint Sponsor

Government Support

Government of Canada

Canada Council for the Arts

Government of Ontario

City of Toronto



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