Canada’s oldest Department of History of Art/Graduate Department of Art was established in March 1935 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.