June 15, 1960 saw the opening of the Cobourg Art Gallery. At the time one of 10 public art galleries in Ontario. (There are now 32.)
The new art gallery was established under the aegis of the Cobourg Public Library, itself only recently coming under the Public Libraries Act of the Province and modernization. The library was housed in a building on the main street (now Tugg’s Furniture) and the space set aside for the art gallery was at the back of the building.
The first display consisted of a series of reproduction paintings from the Sienese School, and took place in a small, freshly painted, room at the rear of the building. The show continued through the summer months and was well attended. However it had to be discontinued for the winter because the room was unheated.
Because of this success the library board recommended that the Gallery exhibits should be widened and publicized and that purchase of one or two original works should be considered.
The established relationship with the Royal Ontario Museum would prove a great source of many wonderful exhibitions.*
In September 1961 the gallery purchased its first two paintings one by the late Sir Frank Brangwyn, R.A. and the other by Paavo Airola, first instructor of the Cobourg Art Club.
In September 1962 two more paintings were purchased. One was by Marthe Rakine (Fountain in the Park), and the other by Peter Haworth (Riviere au Renard).
In February 1963 the Library purchased ‘new’ premises on Chapel Street, which had previously been occupied by the Methodist Chapel. During its time in this location the Gallery’s collection expanded to include 15 paintings, sculpture and other works of art.
In 1977 the gallery moved to its present location on the 3rd floor of Victoria Hall. The AGN brought $100,000 in capital grants to the project ($1,300,000 in 2006 $’s) With 2300 square feet of exhibition space adaptable lighting, sound system security and environmental controls. There is 600 square feet of lecture, film and reception space, all of which is in continual use.
In 1997 the main gallery was remodelled at a cost of $50,000.00, raised mainly from private sources in Northumberland County, and included a major donation from the Rotary Club of Cobourg. It was at this time that the relationship between the Gallery and the Library ceased to exist. (the legal relationship with the library ended when the gallery was incorporated in 1974. There had been some discussion of building a new gallery on the land next to the new library, but that ended before the new library was built)
In 1983 the Art Gallery of Cobourg became the Art Gallery of Northumberland so as better to reflect the regional nature of its collection and services.
The collection at present consists of over 800 works of art valued in excess of $2,000,000. This collection includes works of local, regional, national and international significance, predominantly by Canadian artists.
The historical pieces focus on the development of Northumberland County through portraits of noted citizens, landscapes, depicting this area and other related pieces. There is also a collection of 20th century paintings, sculptures and works on paper. Overall the AGN maintains one of the best collections of art in a small town public gallery in Ontario.
In 2000 the Upstairs Gallery, a branch of the AGN was established in a suite of rooms on the second floor of an office building at 38 Walton Street, in Port Hope. Our Resource Centre and Archives, including an extensive library of art-related books, journals and exhibition catalogues and an art rental program are located in this branch. This resource is freely accessible to the general public.
In 2001 the AGN established a programme of rotating portions of its permanent collection to public facilities such as Northumberland Hills Hospital, Town of Cobourg Municipal Offices, County of Northumberland administrative offices, County Public Libraries, Cobourg Police Services and the local MPP’s Office.
In 2004 the AGN facilitated the feasibility study that would establish the Northumberland Arts Council (2006).
The AGN maintains an active exhibition program throughout the year and additional information is available from the Gallery office.
One of the main functions of the AGN and one to which we are deeply committed, is to be available and accessible as an education resource for the public. This includes public lectures, classes, curriculum support documents and material for public schools, in class presentations and school visits.
The AGN’s Curator/Director is a member of the Town of Cobourg’s Committee for Art in Public Spaces.
*Note: as it did for many institutions at the time – the ROM had a substantial budget for touring exhibitions out to all areas of the province – a budget it no longer has.
Revision: December, 2006