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Honorary degree citation - Jean Sutherland Boggs*

By: Brian Foss, June 2000

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you distinguished art historian, author, museum curator and lecturer, jean Sutherland Boggs.

An active and vital participant in the fine arts community in Canada and the United States for more than half a century, jean Sutherland Boggs earned her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts at the University of Toronto and her Masters and PhD at Harvard University. By that time, she had already begun her distinguished career, having served as Education Secretary of the Art Association of Montreal- now the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal - with Arthur Lismer. She was also an Assistant Professor of Art at Skidmore College and Mount Hollyoke College, Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside, and full professor at Washington University, Saint Louis, and at Harvard.

After her studies, she also held museum positions, beginning as Curator at the Art Gallery of Toronto - now the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 1966, she was named the first female director of the National Gallery of Canada, a position she held for ten years. At the time, she was the only woman to head a major North American museum. Her appointment caught the attention of journalists across the country, who repeatedly commented on her feminine charm and speculated on what a "woman's touch" would mean for the somewhat moribund gallery. What this particular "woman's touch" involved was not the anticipated redecoration of the gallery, but rather a basic overhaul and revitalization of its standards of scholarship, administrative efficiency and professionalism. The gallery's present-day position on the world stage is a legacy of her directorship.

Courted by museums in the United States and Europe, she subsequently became director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but left that position to become chair and chief executive officer of the Canada Museums Construction Corporation. There, her determination led to the choice of architects and sites, the supervision of design and beginning of construction of both a custom-built National Gallery building and the unique Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Dr. Boggs is a scholar of international reputation. Her books, exhibition catalogues and essays are models of clarity, depth of scholarship and breadth of learning. Her strong intellectual commitment to the art of Picasso first manifested itself in the 1964 exhibition Picasso and Man, the first large-scale showing of that artist's work in Canada, and more recently, in her curating in 1992 of Picasso and Things: Still Lifes by Picasso in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Paris, France.

Her principal lifelong interest, however, has been the art of Edgar Degas. Since 1955, she has published extensively on the life and work of Degas and has received international recognition for her work. She was chairman of the Comité scientifique that organized the extremely important Degas retrospective exhibition in 1988, the first exhibition held in the new National Gallery of Canada building. In 1998, she curated Degas at the Races for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., contributed significantly to the Degas and New Orleans exhibition in 1999, and is currently working on a catalogue raisonné of his drawings.

She continues to make cornerstone contributions to international scholarship. However, that superb scholarship is balanced with a sincere concern to democratize interest in art. In the mid 1960s, for example, she published two volumes of her CBC Radio series Listening to Pictures that had a huge audience across the country. Dr. Boggs has always encouraged "ordinary" Canadians to take a greater interest in art.

Entirely aside from her academic and museological accomplishments, Dr. Boggs is a woman of exemplary modesty and generosity. She has not only been a key force in the shaping of young art historians, but has engaged in innumerable anonymous acts of support, patronage and encouragement of others, including a large number of Canadian artists.

Her accomplishments have been recognized and honoured in many ways. She has been awarded 16 honorary doctorates from universities and colleges across Canada. In 1971 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 1992, was named a Companion of the Order. Last November, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, she received the prestigious Mitchell Prize for a lifetime of achievement in museum work. The citation credited her as being perhaps best known for her return to Canada in 1982, at the request of then Prime Minster Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to build the new National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Mr. Chancellor, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, Jean Sutherland Boggs, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.



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