Art on the flipside: What the visitor never sees

One of the many perks of working at a Museum is the opportunity to view works of art from vantage points that the public very rarely get to see – canvases without frames, on tabletops, drawings without a barrier of glass or mat board (which may conceal an artist’s note or paint dabs), art in undiffused light, an unobstructed view from the front…and back. If you’ve ever stepped into an art vault or visited the Museum’s Paper Centre (which I highly recommend), you’ll understand how very different the experience is from the gallery presentations.

Here are a few of the interesting verso views of art in McMaster’s collection:

Adrien Brouwer

Back of 17th century oil painting by Adrien Brouwer (Flemish, 1605-1638)


Back of oil on panel painting c. 1913 by A.Y.Jackson (Canadian, 1882-1974)

Josef Herman

Playing card image on the back of oil painting by Josef Herman (English, born Poland, 1911 – 2000)


Back of 1934 painting “Trees on Pine Island, Georgian Bay” by Naomi Jackson Groves (Canadian, 1910-2001). The artist was a conscientious record keeper. Part of this text says: “Likely done at same time and place as AY’s [her uncle, A.Y. Jackson]. AY, Betty Maw (Brett) and I camped here for about ten days…These trees burned down by vandals later according to AYJ.”

There is handwriting from artists and/or donors on the back of many works in the collection. Several have long narratives written in pencil telling the story that inspired the art. Others have technical notes from the artists about such things as the exact paint pigments selected.

Harold Town - verso

The back of this 1969 Harold Town (Canadian, 1924-1990) painting has the artist’s signature three times as well as his hand print


Many labels from the back of an oil by Claude Monet. For the most part, labels are very helpful and can help us trace a painting’s provenance. Although, sometimes labels on the same artwork have quite different titles…more puzzles to solve.

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1 Response to “Art on the flipside: What the visitor never sees”

  1. 1 Dan Zen April 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    This is so cool! Great to see – connects you more with the artist and the period.

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