“Nocturne”, an evocative sketch, dates from Tom Thomson’s golden painting year of 1916. Estimated at $900,000-1,200,000, this work has a long and distinguished pedigree. Private collections have kept this work well-hidden from public view since 2000, until today.
It has been a pleasure for Cowley Abbott to handle this painting and we look forward to offering this Tom Thomson tomorrow evening in our live auction.
Rob and Peter both discuss the importance of this 1916 painting by Thomson in our new video, highlighting that the work was executed in the same year as Thomson’s “The West Wind” in the collection of the AGO.
I have always been captivated by the work of William Kurelek. His representations are often entertaining, sometimes personal and always engaging. A great deal of what I know about William Kurelek as a person has come to me through those who met and knew the artist and Brian Dedora has been generous of his time and recollections with me for almost twenty years. Brian patiently answers my very particular questions about the artist, his life, his practice and his personality, his personal stories providing a perspective that colours the corners of Kurelek’s life that are often not discussed academically.
Brian and William Kurelek were more than co-worked at Isaac’s Gallery, they were friends and brothers. When Brian speaks of the artist, he always smiles and/or laughs, sharing the warmth from their close relationship. Brian Dedora in Isaacs Gallery Old Workshop was a gift from William Kurelek to Brian Dedora, the artist refocusing his earlier composition of the shop to have Brian play the central role. Every inch of the drawing provides personal details which Brian and William shared and the drawing not only displays a living memory for Brian, but it also leaves William Kurelek’s vision of his friend from their period together at a historic time and place.
I invite you to read the interview with Brian Dedora which Andrew Kear conducted to accompany the cataloguing for this artwork. The conversation brings to even further life this fantastic and personal work of art.
Maud Lewis has captured the hearts of collectors, charmed by her humble upbringing, humour, whimsy, and the sheer joy radiating from her paintings of everyday Maritime life.
Painting serial images, the inconsistencies of Maud Lewis’ work were undoubtedly intentional. She painted winter scenes with off-season foliage and colours because it pleased her. She repeated her subjects and scenes from memory, and cats and flowers ranked among the artist’s favourite subjects.
Watch the video below to learn more about Maud Lewis!
It is a delight to handle works by Maud Lewis and we look forward to offering these pieces in our upcoming Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art. Learn more about the beloved female artist and the artworks in our major spring auction in the new Cowley Abbott video!
William Kurelek was one of Canada’s most idiosyncratic artists of the twentieth century. His work remains both critically acclaimed and popular, although Kurelek resisted ideas of artistic exceptionalism and genius. “The Isaacs Gallery Workshop” is a 1973 ink drawing, once owned by gallerist Avrom Isaacs, that is now in the permanent collection of The Art Gallery of Ontario. In 1976 Kurelek completed “Brian in the Old Workshop”, a cropped version of the Art Gallery of Ontario drawing. It focuses solely on Dedora, bent over cutting glass.Kurelek gifted this drawing to Brian Dedora in 1976 and now Cowley Abbott is honoured to be entrusted with this personal and enlightening artwork.
Take a moment to watch this video narrated by Rob about Kurelek and this personal artwork, “Brian in the Old Workshop”.
Interview with Brian Dedora
In April 2022 Brian Dedora spoke with Andrew Kear about his relationship to William Kurelek, his time at the Isaacs Gallery Workshop, and the drawing “Brian in the Old Workshop”.
AK: You started working at the Isaacs Gallery workshop in 1970. When did you first meet William Kurelek?
BD: I was in Toronto. There was a little gallery on Young Street called the Gutenberg Gallery. And I heard from a Carl Gutenberg, the guy who owned the place, that there was an opening in the framing department at Isaacs. And so, on a Saturday after a beer—I needed some courage—I wandered up to meet Av Isaacs. I said, “I heard that you need a fitter. I am a fitter, and I’m really fast and good.” And he said, “Great, report to the shop Monday morning at nine o’clock.” I was a bit trepidatious, to tell you the truth. You know, being unemployed and feeling a little vulnerable. But when I walked into that shop, within four or five steps into that space, I knew that this was a real live workshop. You could smell it. It was, you know, the lacquers and the shellacs and the gesso and all of it. And then later in the day, Bill [Kurelek] walked in. I didn’t know who he was, actually. He walked down and wanted to know if I was Ukrainian. And I said, “Well, as a matter of fact, my dad is Ukrainian.”
AK: Could you explain what a fitter does, in the context of a framing workshop?
BD: The shop had three distinct spaces, and they were called “ends”— because [workshop foreman] Stan Beecham was British, and this is what they call workshop rooms. So, the first thing you’d walk into was the finishing end. Then you’d walk into a larger room, which was the cutting and joining end. And then the fitting end, where you’d assemble the mats, the glass, the frame and fit it all to the artwork, wrap it all up, put paper on the back with eye screws and wire so that it’s ready to go. I arrived at Isaacs in 1970, just at the Christmas into 1971. So, I was there really from, you know, late-1970 to 1976.
AK: Was Kurelek around the workshop over those six years, between 1970 and 1976?
BD: Yes. He continued to have his own space in the finishing end, and his own bench. That bench is where he, you know, assembled his frames for his paintings. Bill made his end in the shop his own. Every now and then, he’d make up a huge batch of gesso and would paint his benches, drawers, and everything in brilliant white, until it got worn down.
AK: In 1970, what was workshop culture like?
BD: The shop was a place of camaraderie, for and with Bill. And it was a place where he could, you know, meet other men, talk, and stuff like that. But he was pretty straight. The fitter prior to me had hung up some nudies in his end, and Bill came down with a black brush and painted them out. Not their faces, but everything else. We were all essentially run by Stan Beecham, who had an amazing ability to make the workshop flow. Bill often worked at night. There was a little bone of contention between him and Stan because Bill would bring in the barnboards he used for his frames, and there’d be the odd nail that would dull the saw blade. So, Bill decided to bring his own saw blades. It was always pretty magical and warming to come, you know, to the shop on winter days, walking in from the Annex, and see the light on and know that Bill was there. And you’d walk into that lovely warm space, smelling of glue and shellac, and all of it. And there would be Bill, working. And it was our little time to talk. When I graduated from fitting to finishing, I was suddenly working in the same space as Bill. And he was a fantastic teacher.
AK: That is my next question. What did Kurelek teach you, especially in the finishing end?
BD: Well, we had already talked about our rather authoritative Ukrainian fathers. The previous finisher had left, and so I just jumped in the deep end and took over. I knew some basics and stuff, but the finisher prior to me gave me the wrong formulas—so that I couldn’t be as good as him, right? That was what it was like in the old times. Anyway, there was a frame I was finishing, and I couldn’t get the gold leaf into a beading line—the place where two shapes join in a frame. I said, “Bill, I don’t know how to do this.” He came over—he was so quiet, so generous—and he showed me how to bring the gold leaf slowly across so you can bury it into that deep line and then draw it away to do the next part of the frame. It’s a technique I’ve used all my framing life. But he was wonderful. He was very sensitive to somebody deriding you because of your ignorance.
AK: What were your impressions of the frames Kurelek made for his own work?
BD: Bill understood classical framing intimately because of his work in London. And he was able to make little innovations on that. I love his barnboard stuff. In the basement of the shop, he had a whole load of barnboard that he had scavenged from God knows where. Kurelek would paint on his gesso, let it dry. He would rub it down with cold wet linen. And that was the only smoothing that took place. He did not use sandpaper to take out the flaws. And so, when he gilded it, it was a much more organic feeling than the very precise French tradition. Bill’s work was very organic, very rounded. The odd flaw in the gold—they call it a “holiday”—was allowed to stay. And it worked because he knew how to blend the whole thing together.
AK: What is it about Brian in the Old Workshop that resonates with you?
BD: Oh, well it is the spirit of that place. I mean, there’s all sorts of detail, and the place was so full of detail, really. There’s a weight in the picture if you notice—like, for lifting. Well, that’s what we used to weigh things down with in the shop. That’s me in the background there, you know, smashing glass. But there’s so many references, like the little Inuit sculpture on Stan’s bench, pointing at us. But also, the machinery. There’s the press, and then you’re looking into the fitting room. I love that “Nevermore” from Poe’s raven—because it was literally the shop’s fitting end. Right? Bill loved puns. We looked onto the alley, just off Yorkville. And, at that time, it was an older Toronto, so the back lane was old swayback fences and hollyhocks growing there, and the sunlight coming in would hit your workspace in a particular way. And it was warm and toasty in there because we were always heating up something. The shop was much more medieval than what a shop would be today, with nail guns and mat cutters. We were doing everything by hand. It was all by hand. And so, it was a completely different framing world than what you would see if you walked into a shop today.
Join us on June 15th at 7 pm when this William Kurelek drawing will be offered in our major spring auction.
There are many fantastic paintings by Franklin Carmichael included in the permanent collection of the AGO. “Study of Trees, Autumn” by Carmichael relates to these prime period signature works, executed with a pageantry of autumn colours. This Carmichael painting has a wonderful exhibition history and impeccable provenance. Learn more with Peter in this short video.
Guido Molinari, a leader in Quebec abstraction, was a major contributor to post-Abstract Expressionism and post-Automatisme with his Stripe Paintings. Série noir/blancis a “stop-you-in-your-tracks stunner” of a painting. Originally in the collection of the artist’s family, then sold in New York and now being offered by a major collector, this monumental acrylic on canvas makes its debut on the Canadian auction market on June 15th at Cowley Abbott with a pre-sale estimate of $200,000-300,000.
Série noir/blanc will be offered for sale at auction on Wednesday, June 15th at 7 pm at Toronto’s Globe & Mail Centre. The auction is open to the public and we hope to see you there!
Peter popped across the road recently to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario and take a closer look at the Cornelius Krieghoff interior scenes within their permanent collection. These paintings share many similarities in terms of subject matter, rich detail and narrative tone to “French Canadian Habitants Playing at Cards”, the important canvas included in Cowley Abbott’s Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art on June 15th.
One of the artworks I admire in the Spring Live Auction is Bertram Brooker’’s “Still Life (Variation No. 3)“. This work was one of two still-life paintings by Brooker included in the 1938 CNE exhibition in the “Canadian Small Pictures” section. Brooker’s “Variation No. 3” appears to be an abstract version of the second painting, which depicted an arrangement of cabbage and peppers on white paper, a white tablecloth and a brown paper bag. It appears that Brooker wanted to demonstrate in the exhibition how he could toggle between representation and abstraction in paintings that shared a basic iconography of forms.
Cowley Abbott is open all weekend, both Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, so please feel welcome to drop by for a visit to view the fantastic collection of artworks included in the Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art.
I am drawn in by Riopelle’s thick paint application that creates a tactile surface, tempting the viewer (me) to touch it!
The palette knife strokes are a mix of order and spontaneity. “Polyvalencia” dates to a key period in the artist’s life – just as he was moving away from his structured “mosaic” compositions to more linear ones; this transition is apparent in the expressive painting.
I also find it noteworthy that during the time Riopelle completed “Polyvalencia” in 1961, he had recently started his romantic relationship with Joan Mitchell – the two shared an apartment in Paris, travelled throughout Europe, and influenced each other’s rapidly evolving work.
Katherine Meredith, Montreal Representative & Art Specialist. Contact Katherine at [email protected]
Working with both Canadian and International Art I’m always intrigued by the unspoken dialogue that can occur in work by artists of different nationalities who unlikely had any contact.
I was instantly drawn to the dynamic work by Jack Bush, Angry Man and saw the many similarities it has with Edouardo Kingman’s painting Figura, which will be offered in our June International Art auction. Both artists have a very modernist approach to their subjects: the compact focus on single figures, the expressive lines and selective colour choices all come together to convey intense human emotions.
Perry Tung, Senior Canadian & International Art Specialist. Contact Perry at [email protected]
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