Our Department

The Department of Art History at the University of Toronto is devoted to investigating the ways in which individuals (celebrated or unknown) and whole civilizations have expressed themselves through the ages in architecture and town planning, in painting and sculpture, and in printmaking, photography, and the various arts of design.

The Department of Art History at the St. George campus offers Graduate and Undergraduate degrees in Art History. Founded in 1934, it was the first model for such department at a Canadian university and over seven decades has achieved an international reputation for scholarly and creative excellence.

At the undergraduate level, students take courses that explore a wide chronological and geographic scope, ranging from the Bronze Age to the present, from Europe to Asia to the Americas. In 2006, the undergraduate program requirements were changed to enable students to pursue subjects of interest in more depth. Graduate courses are offered by faculty drawn from all three campuses: St. George, Mississauga, and Scarborough.

Finally, extensive library resources, extensive on-campus art collections, and a Federated Academic Digital Imaging System (FADIS)—developed completely within the Department of History of Art/Graduate Department of Art and now used widely at other Canadian Universities to offer web-based access to an extensive library of visual images—are enhanced by access to the country’s most vibrant, diverse, and well-represented art community.

Explore our website and learn more about our department.

Canada’s oldest Department of Art History was established on May 31, 1934 after the University of Toronto applied for and received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to hire its first Chair and pay for his salary for the next five years. After an extensive six-year search, John Alford (1890–1960), a British lecturer from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, was appointed. During the first year, a “pass course” was offered; however, demand was great enough that an honours course was added the following year. In 1936, the Carnegie Corporation gave the University additional funds to hire an additional lecturer, Peter Brieger (1898–1983), a German refugee then working at the Courtauld.

Artist-educators were hired shortly thereafter to instruct studio courses, the first being led by Frederick S. Haines (1879–1960), then principal of the Ontario College of Art. In 1938 distinguished Canadian artist Charles Comfort (1900–1994) joined the Department, and, with John Alford, designed a series of basic studio courses that were among the earliest of such programs offered in a Canadian university.

The Department was situated on the 3rd floor of the south-east corner of University College and consisted of two offices, a large reading room, and a storage area. In addition to the Carnegie “Arts Teaching Set” (comprised of books, prints, mounted photographs, and textile samples that the University had received in 1925), the Art Library (which was more of a reading room back then) was further established with a gift from prominent Toronto portrait painter J.W.L. Forster (1850–1938), who donated $2,000 to purchase additional books.

During the early years, the Department established excellent relationships with other departments such as Architecture, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Philosophy and with sister institutions including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario College of Art, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 1946 the Department of Fine Art merged with the Department of Archaeology to become the Department of Art and Archaeology.

In 1957, the Department and its specialized Library moved to temporary quarters in the former residence of the University President at 86 Queen’s Park Crescent (now the site of the Planetarium) and finally to its present location on the 6th floor of the Sidney Smith Building which opened in 1961.

A Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree was instituted in 1964 and the PhD program in Fine Art History, the country’s first, was established in 1968. The Art Library’s collection development policy (focusing on exhibition, permanent museum holdings, and commercial gallery catalogues, photographs, and other materials to support the graduate curriculum) was formalized in 1970.