Steven McNeil, AGGV Chief Curator & Director of Collections and Exhibitions shares about the AGGV's latest acquisitions.

The AGGV is happy to announce the recent acquisition of two paintings by Virginia Lewis (1905-1999).

Virginia Lewis was active in Victoria from the late 1950s and reached the peak of her artistic activity and achievement during the 1960s. She was a talented painter, devoted to her work and an active member of the art scene in Victoria. The sculptor Elza Mayhew (1916-2004) was her close friend and most direct artistic contemporary. Photos from the artist’s estate show the two artists traveled to New York together, visiting museums, galleries and artist’s studios. Lewis studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto as well as through private lessons with Jan Zak (1914-1986) in Victoria. She was a member of ‘the Point Group’ alongside Nita Forrest (1926-1996) and exhibited her work within juried and group exhibitions, as well as a noteworthy solo exhibition at the AGGV in 1964.

Virginia Lewis (1905-1999), Still Life with Jug, c.1963, oil on board, 123.6 x 93.1 cm, AGGV 2023.006.001

Still Life with Jugs and Coastal Scene both date from the mid 1960s, the peak of Virginia Lewis’ career, and were selected from the artists’ estate to best represent her artistic achievements. Still Life with Jugs, circa 1963, was included in Virginia Lewis’ solo exhibition held at the AGGV in 1964.  The artist painted the work with thick, impasto oil paint on an artist’s board. It makes stylistic references to earlier twentieth century still lives by well-known international artists, most obviously Georges Braque and Picasso. This is a modernist painting, clearly anchored withinart history, and the joy found in formal aesthetics.

Coastal Scene of 1964, is much more fluid in style and speaks to the artists’ instincts as a painter. Built up through loose brushwork and dominated by a dark, moody palette, it feels like a deeply personal work, with less formal antecedents than Still Life with Jugs.

Adding these two works to the AGGV is one step towards addressing an identified gap in the permanent collection: the work of significant yet overlooked modernist female painters active in Victoria during the mid 20th century.  I look forward to future collecting in this area.


Written by Steven McNeil, AGGV Chief Curator & Director of Collections and Exhibitions 


Feature Image: Virginia Lewis (1905-1999), Coastal Scene, 1964, Canadian, oil on board, 124.5 x 91.6 cm, AGGV 2023.006.002