Montreal couple donates 'astounding' art collection to National Gallery of Canada

The donation makes the gallery's holdings of Flemish and Dutch prints the largest and most comprehensive in Canada.

Trove among largest donations of prints, drawings in Canadian history

Montreal physicians Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran amassed the largest collection of northern European prints in Canada. (Submitted by Denis Farley)

The National Gallery of Canada is now home to a vast collection of 16th- and 17th-century northern European art. 

In one of the largest private art donations in Canadian history, Montreal physicians Jonathan Meakins and Jacqueline McClaran have given the Ottawa gallery 258 prints, etchings and woodcuts, including works by Rembrandt, Brueghel and Dürer.

Meakins and McClaran are ardent arts collectors who, over the course of four decades, carefully assembled a trove of Flemish and Dutch drawings and engravings while pursuing successful careers in medicine. 

Rembrandt van Rijn's, "Self-portrait in a Cap, Laughing," 1630. Etching with drypoint. (Submitted by Denis Farley)

They said they caught the collecting bug after visiting an exhibition of Camille Pissarro prints at the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and painstakingly acquired what would become the largest privately held collection of northern European prints in Canada.

"It's a creative act, just like doing an experiment with cells, and that was the driving force," said Meakins.

WATCH | Montreal couple donates more than 200 works of art to National Gallery

Montreal couple donates more than 200 works of art to National Gallery

2 years ago
Duration 2:07
In one of the largest art donations in Canadian history, 250 Dutch and Flemish prints, etchings and woodcuts are now on display at the National Gallery of Canada. As Sandra Abma reports, it’s all thanks to one Montreal couple.

"Delicious" is a word he uses to describe his delight with the glimpses the art provides into everyday life in the Flemish lowlands, including realistic renderings of daily farm chores and rural landscapes, along with more whimsical depictions of high-spirited village festivities and visits to charlatans of years gone by.

They pointed out the meticulous attention to detail and skill revealed in the engravings. 

"It's extraordinary," said McClaran. "It's all created with lines. It's not just the outline, but the volume is created with lines, with needles and metal." 
Anglers are hoping for a nibble in this etching by Dutch painter Adriaen van Ostade, circa 1647. (Submitted by Denis Farley)

During the pandemic, the couple removed their cherished artworks from the bedroom and living room walls of their Montreal home and shipped them off to to the National Gallery so they could be available for all Canadians to see. 

The display, called The Collectors' Cosmos.The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection, is available until Nov. 14.

"The gift is truly astounding," said the exhibition's curator Erika Dolphin. "It makes [the gallery's holdings of Flemish and Dutch prints] the largest and most comprehensive in Canada."

The couple said giving the artwork to Canadians, and seeing it displayed on the gallery's walls, have filled them with joy and pride. 

"How exciting can life be?" said Meakins. "I mean, I'm 80 and this is an apex."

"Second only to getting married," McClaran interjected.


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Meakins. In fact, McClaran said "it's extraordinary."
    Aug 12, 2021 11:07 AM ET