Most great works of art begin with a drawing—ideas come out on paper first. To explore the ways in which the story of Canada has been shaped by works of art on paper, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection presents the exhibition On Paper, from February 6 to May 1, 2016. Visitors will be given a rare glimpse of the finest works of art on paper from the McMichael permanent collection. These works will be on view for a limited time only, since light exposure can be a conservation concern.

On Paper will be displayed over two gallery spaces and features Emily Carr’s 1903 diary/sketchbook, Clarence Gagnon’s original artworks for Maria Chapdelaine, the best watercolours by A.J. Casson and David Milne, including Milne’s watercolour Morning Paper—a recent promised gift to the gallery—and more.

“The McMichael is delighted to have been promised a significant gift of Milne’s Morning Paper, which has never-before been publicly exhibited,” said Sarah Stanners, Director of Curatorial & Collections at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. “This artwork is not only a beautiful watercolour, but celebrates and encourages the spirit of giving. Through the generosity of donors, the McMichael collection continues to grow and provide a unique arts and cultural experience for the public.”

Clarence Gagnon’s original fifty-four artworks for his illustration of Louis Hémon’s classic Canadian novel, Maria Chapdelaine, is one of the highlights of the show. Éditions Mornay, a book publisher in Paris, commissioned Gagnon to create the first colour illustrations, in mixed media on paper, for a new edition of the novel. In illustrating Maria Chapdelaine, Gagnon revealed the complexities of the seemingly simple way of life of the early settlers in rural Quebec. Their experiences, immortalized by Hémon, depicted the struggles against a harsh natural environment while at the same time emphasizing their inner strength and resilience. These qualities profoundly shaped their sense of historic cultural and spiritual values as well as their identification with the land.

“Clarence Gagnon was far more popular than the Group of Seven in both French and English Canada, and in Paris during the first two decades of the twentieth century,” said Chris Finn, Assistant Curator at the McMichael. “He too believed in creating national art, but chose to focus on the people and domesticated landscape of his native province as opposed to the wilderness.”

In addition to the artworks, an iPad will be installed in the first gallery space where Emily Carr’s diary/sketchbook is featured, allowing visitors to scroll through its entire contents. The Maria Chapdelaine display will include copies of the original limited-edition Éditions Mornay novel and the 1931 French periodical L’Illustration, which promoted the book. One of the first Maria Chapdelaine films, produced in France in 1934 and directed by Julien Duvivier, and a hand-drawn lithographic poster promoting the film, will also be part of the exhibition.

For those who love the Group of Seven, rarely seen drawings by Arthur Lismer of Tom Thomson and each Group of Seven member will also be featured in On Paper. Lismer’s drawings lend a personal and playful perspective on these important Canadian artists.