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The A.Y. Jackson painting of Nova Scotia that could have stayed there

It came down to money, which the Nova Scotia government wasn't going to spend to keep a rare Group of Seven painting in the province.

N.S. government had chance in 1981 to buy rare work, but province balked at cost

In 1981, an A.Y. Jackson painting was moving out of Nova Scotia and that was upsetting to some of his fans. 1:29

It came down to money, which the Nova Scotia government wasn't willing to spend.

And that's why a rare painting by the Group of Seven's A.Y. Jackson was heading out of province 38 years ago.

The painting, called A Nova Scotia Village, featured a scene from the town of Bedford, N.S. Jackson had painted it during a wintertime visit there decades before.

'Nova Scotia's loss'

Robert Manuge explained to The National just how rare it was to come across a Group of Seven painting that was created in Atlantic Canada. (The National/CBC Archives)

"[It's] one of the very few Group of Seven works painted in Atlantic Canada," the CBC's Michael Vaughan told The National's viewers on Dec. 3, 1981.

"But money talks and a wealthy Montreal collector has said 'I'll take it,' ... his gain, Nova Scotia's loss."

Robert Manuge, a businessman and art dealer, had been trying to sell it to the province. The Canadian Press reported he'd spent six months trying to make that happen before giving up.

Manuge told The National the 1919 Jackson work was something very special, particularly considering the fact it had been painted in the province.

"A painting of this nature is a prize that will not easily or readily come again, because only four members of the Group of Seven actually painted in Nova Scotia," he said.

Too steep a price to pay?

Louis Stephen explained to the National that the Nova Scotia government earmarked $50,000 each year toward the acquisition of paintings. (The National/CBC Archives)

The National reported that the Montreal buyer had paid more than $100,000 for Jackson's painting. In any case, the price tag was much higher than what Nova Scotia was willing to spend to keep the painting in the province.

Nova Scotia's Department of Culture and Recreation had a $10-million annual budget, but Deputy Minister Louis Stephen said only $50,000 of that was earmarked for buying paintings.

He told The National the province, like many others, was "not in the art acquisition business."

Jackson's work 'always important'

Artist A.Y. Jackson, seen here in a 1971 photo, worked on A Nova Scotia Village during a wintertime stay in the province. (Blaise Edwards/Canadian Press)

In a separate interview with The Canadian Press on the subject, the deputy minister indicated the province had its limits.

"It's always important to have an A.Y. Jackson," Stephen said. "But it's not an end-all and be-all of works of art."

Vaughan said Nova Scotia had watched other works of art leave the province in the past.

"This isn't the first important work that's been sold to Central Canada, but many Nova Scotians are sorry to see A.Y. Jackson goin' down the road," Vaughan said, alluding to the 1970 road movie about two men from the province who head west for work.

Jackson's painting has made at least one trip back since. It was on long-term loan to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, but returned to the Collection Lavalin du Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal in 2010.