When CUAG opened in 1992, it began caring for the University’s existing art collection.

One of the first works in the collection was a painted portrait of Henry Marshall Tory, who in 1942 founded Carleton University, then located on First Avenue in Ottawa. 

Carleton moved to its present site in 1959. The collection soon thrived under the guidance of the University Painting and Sculpture Committee, established in the late 1960s by President Davidson Dunton. 

It was greatly enriched in 1970 with a gift from Frances Barwick, who distributed her brother Douglas Duncan’s collection to universities and galleries across Canada. Mrs. Barwick gave Carleton another amazing gift in the 1980s, the collection of Canadian art she built with her husband, Jack. 

CUAG’s founding director, Michael Bell, developed the University’s collection rapidly during his tenure (1992-2003), largely through donation and by focusing on its existing strengths in Canadian and European art.

Three main themes structure the collection. The first is Canadian art created since 1950, to parallel the University’s history. The second is European art, especially historic works on paper. The third is work in all media made by Inuit, First Nations and Métis artists.

Diana Nemiroff, CUAG’s second director (2005-12), slowed the collection’s growth strategically, consolidating the University’s holdings through the selective acquisition of artworks of aesthetic or historical importance. That work continues today.

The University’s art collection, which today numbers close to 30,000 works, is an invaluable resource for display, research and study. It is also the foundation of CUAG’s longstanding commitment to developing professional curatorial practice.

Approximately 30% of the exhibitions presented at the gallery since 1992 were curated by Carleton students working with the collection.