When it first opened in 1951, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria exhibited art in the historic 1889 mansion that is now adjacent to its seven modern galleries. With almost 20,000 works of art, the Art Gallery has the largest public collection in BC and is a vibrant and active part of Victoria's artist community.
The Victorian Mansion
Designed by William Ridgeway Wilson, the Spencer Mansion was built in 1889. The property originally stretched from Fort Street to Rockland Avenue and incorporated formal gardens, two tennis courts, stables and a coach house. The crowning feature, the belvedere, commands an inspiring view of the ocean. The Mansion was donated in 1951 by Miss Sarah Spencer to become the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Today the Mansion houses The Gallery Shop and Art Rental & Sales as well as administrative offices on the 2nd floor. The Gallery Shop features handmade pottery, jewelry, scarves and other beautiful crafts by local artisans. Through Art Rental & Sales, individuals or businesses can purchase art or rent it for a low monthly fee. This program represents and financially supports artists in the community, while helping to raise funds for the Gallery. The Mansion can also be rented for meetings, weddings or special occasions. In the summer of 2004, the heritage mansion was repainted to reflect the original Queen Anne style colours.
The exhibition gallery spaces were originally added on to the Spencer Mansion between 1955 and 1978. From 2001 to 2003, the seven galleries have been extensively renovated and outfitted with state-of-the-art heating, ventilation and air conditioning giving the Art Gallery one of the best climate control systems in Canada. These changes allow the Art Gallery to host prestigious touring exhibitions and bring a higher calibre of artwork to Vancouver Island. Substantial aesthetic improvements have been made to the front entrance, corridors and Gallery Shop.
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria prides itself on presenting a diverse assortment of exhibitions including showcases of own Canadian, historical and world-class Asian collection, as well as creating, commissioning and hosting important contemporary exhibitions. Both the Canada Council for the Arts and the BC Arts Council recognized the Art Gallery for its outstanding presentations in recent years.
On permanent display is the work of British Columbia's foremost historical artist Emily Carr. An exhibition including paintings, excerpts from her books and archival images offers an insightful look at this inspiring local artist who captured the BC landscape and the lives of its First Nations peoples in paint.
Asian Collection and Garden
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is home to one of Canada's most important Asian art collections, second only to the Royal Ontario Museum. The collection of amber and ivory carvings is one of the largest and most exquisite in North America. The Gallery's collection has grown under the careful watch of internationally recognized Asian Curator, Barry Till. Several impressive objects d'art are on permanent exhibition including a grand Chinese Bell, cast in 1641 during the Ming dynasty that was presented to the City of Victoria in 1903. A popular attraction, it hung in Beacon Hill Park until 1989, when it came to the Art Gallery to ensure its long-time preservation. The Gallery's Asian Garden boasts the only authentic Japanese Shinto Shrine in North America. It is a fine example of the architecture of a Meiji period Shinto Shrine, now perfectly situated among bamboo and Japanese maples.