Nicholas de Grandmaison, Sun Calf, Siksika (1949), pastel on paper [Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton AB, May 24-Aug 10] From the University of Lethbridge Art Collection, bequest of Lubov Alexandra de Grandmaison, 1994
Drawn from the Past: The Portraits & Practice of Nicholas de Grandmaison was guest curated by Gordon Snyder and circulated by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.
The exhibit presents a fascinating series of portraits of Plains Indians drawn mainly in pastel. They highlight de Grandmaison's long and successful career as a portraitist in Canada and capture the strength, vitality and emotions of a people he saw as the aristocrats of North America. The exhibition includes audio recordings of interviews with his subjects and of traditional songs.
De Grandmaison's life took a circuitous journey from his patrician roots in Russia to his induction into a First Nations tribe on the Canadian prairies. Educated in Moscow, he studied art, music, history, languages, cartography and topography before joining the army at age 19. During World War I, he was interned in a German POW camp for four years. As an artist émigré, he studied at the St. John's Wood Art School in London after the war, and later in Paris. He immigrated to Winnipeg in 1923, where he worked at a printing and engraving firm doing portraits mainly of children.
De Grandmaison's first exposure to Canada's natives took place in 1930 when he travelled to The Pas in northern Manitoba. Immediately struck by his affinity with the native communities, he devoted the rest of his life to documenting them. In the 1930s and 1940s de Grandmaison began painting and sculpting portraits of the Plains Indians of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta. In 1940, he settled with his family in Banff, then a tiny community near the border of BC and Alberta, and travelled widely in his quest. He was elected into the Royal Canadian Academy in 1942.
Nicholas de Grandmaison, whose honours include the Order of Canada, died in Calgary in 1978 and was buried in the Peigan Reserve where he had been made an Honorary Chief. His work is represented in public and private collections across Canada.