Promised gift from the Lanigan Collection, Photo © NGC
Frederick Sandys "King Pelles' Daughter Bearing the Vessel of Sangreal" 1861
Frederick Sandys, "King Pelles’ Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sangreal", 1861, pen and black ink on paper, 12.6” x 9.2”
Saskatoon dentist Dennis Lanigan was riding the London subway in 1976 when he spotted an advertisement for a major retrospective of 19th-century artist Edward Burne-Jones at the Hayward Gallery. When Lanigan went to the exhibition it was love at first sight.
“This was my first introduction to the Pre-Raphaelites and the first blockbuster exhibition I had ever attended,” says Lanigan, now semi-retired. “If there is such a thing as ‘road to Damascus’ for a collector, then this exhibition surely was mine.”
Back in Saskatoon, Lanigan soon began acquiring Pre-Raphaelite art, mainly drawings. His collection is so impressive the National Gallery of Canada is showing 100 of the works, the bulk of the collection, from Oct. 9 to Jan. 3. Twenty pieces are gifts from Lanigan to the gallery; the other 80 are promised gifts. An international tour has been discussed. Sonia Del Re, the curator in charge of Beauty’s Awakening: Drawings by the Pre-Raphaelites and their Contemporaries from the Lanigan Collection, calls the gifts “transformational.”
Lanigan, who has collected art since graduating from the University of Saskatchewan, says fate first directed him to the Victorians, then to the Pre-Raphaelites, rebels who favoured dreamy art with a Romantic aesthetic. He left that first show feeling he would “die happy” if he could own even one drawing by Burne-Jones. He now has a dozen, and says the scholarship involved in identifying the right work is as important to him as placing it on his wall.
Lanigan’s collection is unique, says Christopher Newall, a British art historian who wrote an essay for the show’s catalogue: “This is because Dennis has not put the collection together to gather trophy pieces likely to impress people whose knowledge of the period amounts to the names of a handful of central figures, but to construct a fabric of interrelated images, each of which complements and informs the larger entity.”
Nevertheless, some trophy names are in the collection: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frederic Leighton and, of course, Edward Burne-Jones.