“Morrisseau’s magic was stronger than his rivals and three decades later, he’s not just alive, but creatively well. He has finished painting his next solo exhibition, which will open this Saturday at the Kinsman Robinson Galleries.” – Christopher Hume, Toronto Star
“My art speaks and will continue to speak, transcending barriers of nationality, of language and other forces that may be divisive, fortifying the greatness of the spirit that has always been the foundation of the Ojibwa people.” – Norval Morrisseau
Available works range between $5,000 and $400,000
Norval Morrisseau came to prominence following his first sold-out exhibition at Toronto’s Pollock Gallery in 1962. Five decades later, Morrisseau’s artwork is notable for its kaleidoscopic colour, bold black outlines and sacred imagery. Morrisseau’s signature style has cemented the artist as an icon of Canadian art.
Kinsman Robinson Galleries enjoyed a long-standing and close relationship with Norval Morrisseau during the last two decades of his life. We welcomed Morrisseau to the roster in 1989 and hosted his comeback exhibition “The Shaman’s Return”, a sold-out event which wowed collectors and critics a year later. Kinsman Robinson acted as Morrisseau’s primary gallery until his death in 2007. In collaboration with Anna Porter, we published two Morrisseau hardcover books, the first in 1997 and the revision in 2005: “Norval Morrisseau: Return To The House of Invention.” We sponsored two out of four venues during the major retrospective, “Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist” (2006-2007), one at the McMichael and the other at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe.
Since 2008, Kinsman Robinson Galleries has held five biennial Morrisseau retrospectives with accompanying full-colour catalogues. We continue to pursue our moral commitment to protect the artistic legacy of Norval Morrisseau and to preserve the value of genuine works by the artist.
FROM NORVAL MORRISSEAU LIFE & WORK by Carmen Robertson, PhD
Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau worked outside the established traditions of European visual culture and on occasion used his art to make forceful political statements. He defied categorization and challenged conventional understandings of Indigenous art. Although the media judged him harshly for his alcoholism and his traditional beliefs, such as shamanism, Morrisseau succeeded in raising awareness of Indigenous aesthetics and cultural narratives as he developed an artistic vocabulary that inspired a new Canadian art movement.
Racial Politics and Art
When Norval Morrisseau arrived on the Canadian art scene in 1962, he was something of an anomaly. At a time when enforced assimilation was national policy and First Nations had only recently been accorded the right to vote in federal elections, few Indigenous people made art that was viewed as contemporary within the narrow framework accepted in mainstream cultural circles. Most Indigenous artworks were considered artifacts, better displayed in ethnographic museums.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the federal government had invested heavily in the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, and its director, James Houston (1921–2005), worked hard to market Inuit soapstone carvings, drawings, and prints as modern artistic expressions. Canadians were being primed to consider Indigenous arts as contemporary. The Canadian Guild of Crafts also supported Indigenous arts, but its shows were typically held in venues other than art galleries. Without government intervention, there appeared to be little appetite for Indigenous art in galleries in the early 1960s.
Morrisseau’s 1962 exhibition at the Pollock Gallery in Toronto therefore sparked a national news event, in part because of the artist’s racial identity and in part because he was creating contemporary art. Works like Moose Dream Legend, 1962, were hailed as both primitive and modern by critics at the time. Morrisseau’s work demonstrated clear links to the oral narrative traditions of the Anishinaabe in its process and its focus on animals and spirit beings, but also commented on how 150 years of the assimilationist policies of Canada’s Indian Act, which included residential schooling, had visibly erased Indigenous issues and understandings from Canadian public life. Curator Gerald McMaster has described Morrisseau as “a latter-day neoprimitivist” because modern art had rejected all referents to things old or expressly cultural while it celebrated primitivism as a universal muse to the modern.
Morrisseau’s entry onto the art scene can be best described as a rupture in Canadian art history. As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the United States and inspired Native Americans to push for greater equality, and as Indigenous populations in Mexico advanced similar struggles, Canadian Indigenous peoples also organized and confronted government practices. In June 1969, the release of the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (a document commonly known as the 1969 White Paper) by the Trudeau government in Ottawa triggered a series of political events. These resulted in the creation of the National Indian Brotherhood and regional factions that challenged the federal government to make changes to a system that was stacked against First Nations people. Artists joined forces, too, to change the racialized ways art was being exhibited in Canada.
In 1967, Indigenous artists were commissioned to create the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, a moment now considered pivotal in acknowledging activism and awareness of Indigenous issues in Canada, but Morrisseau left the project when the government officials organizing the exhibition deemed his mural design of bear cubs nursing from Mother Earth too controversial.
Morrisseau was part of a group called the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., which was established by Odawa artist Daphne Odjig (1919-2016) in Winnipeg in 1973 and labelled the Indian Group of Seven by the press. Other members included Jackson Beardy (1944–1984), Alex Janvier (b. 1935), Carl Ray (1943–1978), Eddy Cobiness (1933–1996), and Joseph Sanchez (b. 1948), and its purpose was to promote Indigenous arts and foster opportunities for emerging artists.
As early as 1972, anthropologist and artist Selwyn Dewdney (1909–1979) had tried to persuade the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa to add works by Morrisseau to its collection, but his effort was unsuccessful. At the time, the ethnographic Canadian Museum of Man, then in Ottawa (now the Canadian Museum of History, Hull, Quebec), was the Canadian institution that collected contemporary Indigenous art, whereas the National Gallery bought works by non-Indigenous Canadian artists. It had been more than thirty years since Dewdney’s initial request when the National Gallery of Canada purchased its first work by Norval Morrisseau. In 2006, the gallery then made him the subject of its first retrospective exhibition devoted entirely to an Indigenous artist. As art critic Paul Gessel, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, noted under the front-page headline “An Art Pioneer Makes His Final Breakthrough,” “Who would be the first Native artist to be given a show akin to the exhibitions granted such ‘white’ Canadian artists as Tom Thomson and Emily Carr? The consensus among the Aboriginal art community was that Norval Morrisseau…had to be the one.” This media coverage repositioned Morrisseau as a major Canadian artist, validated Indigenous art as contemporary, and helped end the practice of separating Indigenous from mainstream artists in public discourse.
Excerpted from Norval Morrisseau: Life & Work by Carmen Robertson (2016) published by the Art Canada Institute, www.aci-iac.ca. We gratefully acknowledge the ACI’s permission to reproduce this material.
Carmen Robertson is a professor in the Visual Arts Department, Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance at the University of Regina. She is a specialist in contemporary Canadian Indigenous art history, visual culture, and colonial issues. A Lakota-Scottish scholar, she has long pursued and promoted the study of Indigenous arts and culture.
Robert McMichael (center) co-founder of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg congratulates Norval Morrisseau along with Donald Robinson at his opening. Taken in 1991 during Norval Morrisseau’s second sold-out exhibition at Kinsman Robinson.
Norval Morrisseau with longtime art dealer Donald Robinson pictured in 2004.
Norval Morrisseau with Donald Robinson on a 1997 visit to the McMichael in front of Morrisseau’s painting, Shaman and Disciples (1979) Reproduced in black & white on the dust jacket, Norval Morrisseau: Return To The House of Invention
(Key Porter Books, 2005)
National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario); McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario); Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario); Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (New York City, New York); Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroil, Michigan); Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art (Oklahoma, Nebraska); Tweed Museum of Art (Duluth, Minnesota); Dennos Museum Center (Traverse City, Michigan); Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Ontario); Art Gallery of Mississauga (Mississauga, Ontario); MacLaren Art Centre (Barrie, Ontario); Thunder Bay Art Gallery (Thunder Bay, Ontario); Art Gallery of Algoma (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario); Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre (Red Lake, Ontario); Art Gallery of Windsor (Windsor, Ontario); Government of Ontario Art Collection; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) (Gatineau, Québec); Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Québec); Trent University (Peterborough, Ontario); Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée des beaux-arts (Montréal, Québec); McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montréal, Ontario); Musée national des beaux-arts du Quebec (Québec City, Québec); Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (Kitchener, Ontario); MacKenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan); Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta); Winnipeg Art Gallery (Winnipeg, Manitoba); City Hall Collection; Etobicoke Board of Education (Etobicoke, Ontario); Toronto Star Collection (Toronto, Ontario); Hart House Collection (Toronto, Ontario); Robertson Art Center (Los Angeles, California); The Ondaatje Corporation; Guardian Capital Group Ltd.; Procter And Gamble Inc.; lmperial Oil of Canada; Northern Telecom; Weir & Foulds; Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt; Montreal Trust Collection; Canadian lmperial Bank of Commerce; Noranda Mining And Exploration Inc.
KINSMAN ROBINSON PUBLICATIONS
2016 Norval Morrisseau: 2016 Retrospective – 5th Installment, Kinsman Robinson Galleries. (Downloadable PDF)
2014 Norval Morrisseau: 2014 Retrospective, Kinsman Robinson Galleries. (Downloadable PDF)
2012 Norval Morrisseau: 2012 A Retrospective, Kinsman Robinson Galleries. (Downloadable PDF)
2011 Norval Morrisseau: Early Paper & Birch Bark, Kinsman Robinson Galleries. (Downloadable PDF)
2010 2010: Retrospective, Kinsman Robinson Galleries. (Downloadable PDF)
2008 Norval Morrisseau: A Retrospective, Kinsman Robinson Galleries. (Downloadable PDF)
April 15, 2019. Shocking Norval Morrisseau Forgery-Ring Story Hits the Big Screen, Canadian Art by Leah Sandals.
June 12 2019. The story of Norval Morrisseau’s contested art is as riveting as it is complicated in There Are No Fakes, The National Post by Chris Knight.
April 15, 2018. A trial revealed an alleged wellspring of hundreds of take paintings purported to be the work of the famed Anishinaabe artist, Maclean’s by Joe Castaldo.
September 28, 2016. Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau subject of Regina professor’s new book, CBC.
December 4, 2007. Iconic Canadian painter Norval Morrisseau dies at 75, CBC.
January 26 2004. Norval Morrisseau. Maclean’s by John Geddes. (archived on Canadian Encyclopedia)
Norval Morrisseau: Life and Works, Art Canada Institute. (Digital Book & PDF)
2016 Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau, University of Manitoba Press.
2015 The Thunderbird Poems, Harbour Publishing.
2014 Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird, Douglas McIntyre.(Link to Purchase)
2013 Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, Smithsonian Books.
2011 A Picasso from the North country: The Wild Journey of Canadian Artist, Norval Morrisseau, Ahnisnabae Art Gallery.
2008 Norval Morrisseau and the Woodland Artists: the Red Lake Years, 1959-1980, Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre.
2007 Norval Morrisseau, Canadian Encyclopedia (Link)
2007 Copper Thunderbird, Talonbooks.
2006 Copper Thunderbird, National Arts Centre (Downloadable Study Guide PDF)
2006 Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist, National Gallery of Canada. (Link to Purchase)
2005 Return To The House of Invention, Key Porter Books. (Link to Purchase)
2002 Norval Morrisseau: The Development of the Woodland School of Art, Maslak McLeod Gallery.
1997 Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention, Key Porter Books Ltd. (Link to Purchase)
1984 Norval Morrisseau and the Emergence of the Image Makers, Carswell Legal Pubns.
1979 The Art of Norval Morrisseau. Methuen & Co., (Link to Purchase)
1977 Legends of my people, the great Objibway, McGraw-Hill Ryerson. (Link to Purchase)
1969 Windigo and Other Tales of the Ojibways, McClelland & Stewart. (Link to Purchase)
AUDIO & VIDEO
June 17. 2019. How Norval Morrisseau, late ‘Picasso of the North,’ landed at centre of massive art forgery ring, CBC’s Q
June 8. 2015. How painter Norval Morrisseau got his spirit name, CBC.
Norval Morriseau greets the art world in 1962, CBC Archives.
Art copyright © 2022 Norval Morrisseau Estate. Photography © 2022 Michael Cullen/TPG Digital Art Services. Text copyright © 2022 Art Canada Institute and Kinsman Robinson Galleries. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No component of this site, including images, text, video and computer code, may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means, electronic, graphic, digital or mechanical, including photocopying or information storage & retrieval systems, without the prior express written permission of the copyright holder(s). Videography and editing: John MacGregor Newman.