The Brink Collection of more than 1,000 prints is comprehensive in its scope, spanning four centuries of European art with some North American works. This collection was methodically assembled by an astute scholar, providing rare and in-depth holdings by master print makers and their ardent contemporaries. The collection contains some of the most accomplished etchings, engravings, and mezzotints ever made. The Brink Collection was gifted to the University of Guelph collection between 2004 and 2014 by Andrew and Helen Brink, in memory of Andrew’s parents—R. Alexander Brink, a graduate of the Ontario Agricultural College in 1919 and Edith Margaret Whitelaw Brink, a graduate of Macdonald Institute in 1921—who met in Guelph.
In spring 2004, the gallery announced the Brinks’ exceptional first gift through the exhibition The English Picturesque and Dutch Landscape Prints of the Seventeenth Century, which featured 57 works on paper. The eighteenth century English ‘Picturesque’ movement produced a landscape tradition that was, in part, derived from Dutch visual stimuli. Along with the recognized Italianate sources and the work of Nicholas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, and Salvator Rosa, seventeenth century Dutch landscape art had a strong appeal to the English sensibility. The unembellished rural life, ordinary Dutch agrarian and village scenes including farming folk and animals, heightened English awareness of their own countryside. The exhibition featured the images by Netherlandish artists from which the English ‘Picturesque’ flourished before the industrial revolution altered the terrain and the rural mentality forever. The extensive exhibition catalogue employed elements of seventeenth-century literary design, featured a comprehensive essay by Andrew Brink, and fully documented all of the works in the exhibition, many of which were illustrated.
In spring 2006, the exhibition Landscape: Flemish, Dutch and French Prints of the ‘Golden Age’ presented 54 works chosen by Andrew Brink from The Brink Collection. The exhibition featured etchings and engravings from the height of the northern Renaissance, including extraordinary graphics by renowned artists such as Jan ‘Velvet’ Brueghel, Jan Van de Velde, Herman Van Swanevelt, Antoni Waterloo, and even Titian who supplied the motif for an engraving by Dominique Barriere. In the ‘Golden Age’ hundreds (perhaps thousands) of print editions were circulated. They were intended for private study and contemplation, while paintings were more often displayed publicly. As a democratic medium, a separate ‘taste’ was engendered for prints that intensified the human experience in nature, retaining the immediacy of drawing and the finish of painting. In the catalogue essay, Andrew Brink proposes that the efflorescence of prints in the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ arose from the nation’s newly won freedom from Spanish domination and the dislocation felt by many who had become mobile after generations of rural life. The exhibition Landscape: Flemish, Dutch and French Prints of the ‘Golden Age’ exquisitely documents the development from early Flemish print making towards the Dutch and French landscape and pastoral achievements of the later seventeenth century.
In 2014, the gallery presented the third exhibition of prints selected from the Brink Collection, featuring works by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600-1682), one of the most celebrated landscape painters of the seventeenth century. Lorrain’s prints on paper match the mastery and execution of his paintings yet have been largely unrecognized by contemporary collectors and art historians. Lorrain’s works form the keystone of the Brink Collection. In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery launched the book Ink and Light: The Influence of Claude Lorrain’s Etchings on England, which is Andrew Brink’s last book (published posthumously by McGill-Queen’s University Press). In the book, Brink positions Lorrain’s prints as seminal to the establishment of seventeenth and eighteenth century aesthetics in England, giving rise to English pictorialism in art and landscape architecture that would have international influence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.