Joan Murray (art historian)

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Joan Murray
Joan Arden Charlat Murray OO FRSC

(1943-08-12) August 12, 1943 (age 76)
New York City, United States

Joan Arden Charlat Murray (born August 12, 1943), is a Canadian writer, independent curator and art historian. Her curatorial projects are wide-ranging and cover a wide spectrum of the visual arts in Canada: contemporary, modern, historical, regional, national and interdisciplinary: she has a special interest in Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven, abstraction and women artists. She is the author of many books, catalogues and articles as well as being a former Gallery curator and director, having worked at institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario (1968–1973), The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa (1974–1999) and the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery in Kleinburg (2005–2006).


The Robert McLaughlin Gallery
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Born in New York City in 1943 [1] and a student at Hunter College Elementary School and High School, Joan Charlat moved to Canada in 1959 to marry W. Ross Murray, Q.C. She studied art history at the University of Toronto, receiving an Honours B.A. (1965). After earning her M.A. at Columbia University (1966), she returned to Toronto to complete her doctorate, but in 1968, hired by the Art Gallery of Ontario as Head of Education & Extension, she did not return to the University to complete her doctoral work. In 1969, the Gallery promoted her to Research Curator, and then to Curator of Canadian Art (the first such Gallery appointment) (1970–73). At the Gallery, she also served as the Acting Chief Curator (1972). From 1974 to 1999, Ms. Murray served as Director of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa where she organized over one hundred exhibitions and built a substantial collection, largely of Canadian art, as well as assisting with the creation of a new building by Arthur Erickson in 1987. In 2002, she assisted the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario as one of the curators for a major retrospective of Tom Thomson. She also developed several exhibitions for the McLaughlin, among them The Birth of the Modern: Post-Impressionism in Canadian Art with a major book-catalogue and a ten-year retrospective of First Nations artist Carl Beam, as well as curating an exhibition of Guido Molinari for the Art Gallery of Hamilton, a show of Painters Eleven for the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham and a major retrospective of Florence Carlyle for Museum London. From 2003 to 2004, she served as Adjunct Curator to the Varley Art Gallery in Unionville. From 2005-2006, she served as the Interim Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg. Her most recent books include one on the important Canadian abstract painter Michael Adamson Open Country 2008 , (Panda Group Canada) and in 2011, a book on Tom Thomson, A Treasury of Tom Thomson (Douglas & McIntyre).

Murray is a well-known and popular lecturer, both in Canada and abroad, and has served on many juries as well as writing many entries for catalogues, encyclopedia and lexicons. Her interviews with Canadian artists constitute the Joan Murray Papers: 750 audio and video tapes housed in Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, forming Canada's most extensive oral history of art.


A leading scholar of Tom Thomson,[2] Murray was responsible for bringing the paintings of this visionary Canadian painter to world attention through a series of exhibitions and books, including a biography. She has prepared a full-scale catalogue raisonné of his work, a project which took her close to forty years. She also has authored many books on the history of Canadian art, most notably Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century (1999), Northern Lights: Masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven (1994), and McMichael Canadian Art Collection: One Hundred Masterworks (2006) and published over one hundred catalogues and two hundred articles on subjects ranging from folk art to contemporary artists, in The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and other publications across the country. Murray is also an artist with her work in many collections, public and private. Murray is considered one of the most accessible of Canadian art writers. Catherine Osborne, in her 2000 review[3] of Murray’s Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century, writes in Quill & Quire, "Murray’s writing glides easily and informatively…she writes with clarity and makes a conscious effort to avoid excessive artspeak."


Murray was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1992;[4] and in 1993, was honoured with the Senior Award from the Association of Cultural Executives (A.C.E.) for her outstanding contribution and dedication to Canadian cultural life.[5] She received the Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Ontario Association of Art Galleries in 2000. She received the Order of Ontario in 2003. She was selected as University College, University of Toronto 2013 Alumni of Influence in 2013.


  • Murray, Joan (1971). The Art of Tom Thomson. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario.
  • Bruce, William Blair; Murray, Joan (1982), Letters Home, 1859-1906: The Letters of William Blair Bruce, Penumbra Press, ISBN 978-0-92080-636-4
  • Murray, Joan; Fulford, Robert (1983), The Beginnings of Vision: The Drawings of Lawren S. Harris, Univ of Washington Pr, ISBN 978-0-29596-050-0
  • Kurelek, William; Murray, Joan (1983), Kurelek's Vision of Canada, Hurtig, ISBN 978-0-88830-254-0
  • Murray, Joan (1984), The Last Buffalo: The Story of Frederick Arthur Verner, Painter of the Canadian West, Pagurian Press, ISBN 978-0-88932-130-4
  • ——— (1984). The Best of the Group of Seven. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers. ISBN 978-0-77106-674-0.
  • ——— (1986). The Best of Tom Thomson. Edmonton: Hurtig. ISBN 978-0-88830-299-1.
  • ——— (1987), The Best Contemporary Canadian art, Hurtig, ISBN 978-0-88830-318-9
  • ———; Harris, Lawren (1993), The Best of the Group of Seven (2nd ed.), McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 978-0-77106-674-0
  • ——— (1994a). Northern Lights: Masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Toronto: Key Porter. ISBN 978-0-88665-347-7.
  • ——— (1994b). Tom Thomson: The Last Spring. Toronto: Dundurn. ISBN 978-1-55002-218-6.
  • ——— (1996). Tom Thomson: A Sketchbook. Toronto: Golden Press.
  • ——— (1997), Home Truths: A Celebration of Family Life by Canada's Best-Loved Painters, Key Porter Books, ISBN 978-1-55013-882-5
  • ——— (1998). Tom Thomson: Design for A Canadian Hero. Toronto: Dundurn. ISBN 978-1-55002-315-2.
  • ——— (1999). Tom Thomson: Trees. Toronto: McArthur & Co. ISBN 978-1-55278-092-3.
  • ——— (2002a). "Tom Thomson's Letters". In Reid, Dennis (ed.). Tom Thomson. Toronto/Ottawa: Art Gallery of Ontario/National Gallery of Canada. pp. 297–306. ISBN 978-1-55365-493-3.
  • ——— (2002b). "Chronology". In Reid, Dennis (ed.). Tom Thomson. Toronto/Ottawa: Art Gallery of Ontario/National Gallery of Canada. pp. 307–317. ISBN 978-1-55365-493-3.
  • ——— (2002c). Flowers: J. E. H. MacDonald, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Toronto: McArthur & Co. ISBN 978-1-55278-326-9.
  • ——— (2003), Lawren Harris: An Introduction to His Life and Art, Firefly Books, ISBN 978-1-55297-764-4
  • ——— (2004). Water: Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven. Toronto: McArthur & Co. pp. 108–15. ISBN 978-1-55278-457-0.
  • ——— (2006). Rocks: Franklin Carmichael, Arthur Lismer, and the Group of Seven. Toronto: McArthur & Co. pp. 92–7. ISBN 978-1-55278-616-1.
  • ——— (2008), Open Country, 1, Panda Group Canada, p. 205, ISBN 978-0-9811116-0-5
  • ——— (2010), The Art of Florence Vale, Art Gallery of Peel, ISBN 978-0-98115-072-7
  • ——— (2011). A Treasury of Tom Thomson. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 978-1-55365-886-3.


  1. ^ Murray, Joan. "Joan Murray | Life". Joan Murray Art Website. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  2. ^ Murray, Joan. "Joan Murray | Career". Joan Murray Art Website. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  3. ^ Osborne, Catherine. "Book Review: Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century," Quill & Quire (January 2000)
  4. ^ "RSC Membership List". RSC.
  5. ^ Murray, Joan. "Joan Murray | Honours". Joan Murray Art Website. Retrieved 16 January 2013.