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National Gallery attendance is up but still lower than expected

Sunset over glass tower of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

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Not a few Canadians were miffed in 1857 when Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of what would become the Dominion of Canada. Too out of the way! Too small! Too backwoods!

Ottawa may still be too far off the beaten path at least for art lovers, if statistics released this week by the National Gallery of Canada are an indication. The gallery, which received a parliamentary appropriation of more than $45-million last year, recorded 346,890 visitors for the 2011-12 fiscal year ending March 31. While representing a 10 per cent increase in attendance from the last fiscal year, it's known the NGC was anticipating a higher total, in the expectation that its summer show, Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome, would do well during its exclusive-to-Canada three-month run. However, official attendance was recorded at just under 109,000, or 31 per cent of NGC's total for 2011-12.

The single exhibition with the greatest attendance in NGC history remains Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age, mounted in 1997. Running June 27 through Sept. 14, it attracted 340,000 visitors, 92 per cent of them Canadian.

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Traditionally, the NGC has showcased European art during its summer season. An exception occurred in 2010 when it hosted Pop Life: Art in a Material World. It drew about 65,000 visitors but was considered a success because attendance was about 30 per cent higher than projected and an estimated 46 per cent of visitors were in the coveted 18-to-34 demographic. The gallery is again "going European" this spring and summer. Opening May 25 for a duration of almost four months is Van Gogh: Up Close, the first major exhibition of the Dutch master's works in Canada in more than 25 years. The NGC is the show's only Canadian venue.

Canada's largest museum, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, recently reported a total of just under 988,000 visitors for 2011-12, including admissions, school visits and attendance at programs and events. The Art Gallery of Ontario says it had just under 602,000 visitors in the same fiscal year, a 2 per cent drop from its 2010-11 total of 613,000 (some of that attendance came from attendees to King Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, which opened in late November, 2009, and ran through May 2, 2010.)

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