Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Creation

Bertram Brooker

oil on board
titled and the estate stamp on the reverse
24 x 17 ins ( 61 x 43.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $30,000.00$20,000.00 - $30,000.00

Price Realized $23,000.00
Sale date: May 31st 2016

Private Collection
“B.R. Brooker”, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1972 and travelling to other galleries including the Confederation Art Centre, no.1
“The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting 1920-1940”, London Regional Art and Historical Museums, March 10-April 22, 1990, travelling to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Edmonton Art Gallery, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, and Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax
Dennis Reid, “Bertram Brooker (1888-1955)”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1979, cat. no.1, reproduced page 21
Ann Davis, “The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting 1920-1940”, Toronto, 1992, reproduced page 71
A forerunner for abstraction in Canada, Brooker was originally criticized for his innovative work which contrasted with the traditional landscape art of the time. His work was included in the “International Exhibition of Modern Art”, Assembled by the Société Anonyme in 1927 at the Art Gallery of Toronto, the first exhibition to introduce Canada to abstraction. Friends with the Group of Seven, and particularly close with Lawren Harris, Brooker was also a member of the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, often socializing and discussing theosophy with Harris and its place in painting.

Exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada in 1972, “Creation” features the abstracted orb-like form, a hollowed figure filling the image plane, as the predominant feature of the composition. Rays of yellow emit vertically from behind the orb while diagonal lines in the upper left and lower right corners frame the composition, harnessing the powerful energy. The title hints at Brooker's endeavour to not simply paint static objects, but to capture an action; to paint verbs in a non-literal representation.

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Bertram Richard Brooker
(1888 - 1955) Canadian Group of Painters, RCA

Born in 1888 in London, England, Bertram Brooker was one of Canada’s first abstract painters. Brooker attended school until age twelve when he went to work as a domestic servant at Fuller’s Dairy. Brooker had an early interest in art and music. His first painting was a watercolour from 1899 featuring exultant Christ. Unfortunately, this work does not survive. Brooker was a choirboy at the St. James Anglican Church in Croydon. In 1905, Brooker’s family immigrated to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Here, Brooker worked with his father at the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

In his early twenties, Brooker traveled to England and New York City. On this trip he probably encountered modern theatre and contemporary art, such as the first Post-Impressionist exhibition organized by Roger Fry in 1910. From 1911-14 he was active in the local theatre community and directed a play called Much Ado About Something. In 1914, Brooker became the editor of the Portage Review. He would later work as a designer, music and drama editor, and director for various newspapers in Winnipeg and Regina. In 1920, Brooker and his brother moved to Brandon, Manitoba, and opened a cinema in the Neepawa Opera House. Brooker wrote and sold several scripts about a detective, Lambert Chace, while in Brandon. Three of these films survive.

In 1921, Brooker moved to Toronto to work at the Globe and at Marketing. Three years later, Brooker purchased Marketing and became the publisher and editor. In 1927, Brooker sold the company back to its original owner. In 1929, Brooker began working at J.J. Gibbons Advertising Agency. He worked there until 1936 where he was hired at MacLaren Advertising, where he worked until 1955, and eventually became the Vice-President of the company.

While visiting a Presbyterian church in Dwight at the Lake of Bays in Ontario, Brooker experienced a moment of awakening and came to understand that the role of artists was to instruct society on getting in touch with their spiritual values. He began creating nonfigurative paintings in tempera that were inspired by his enlightenment at the church. The style adopted by Brooker was indebted to a group of English artists who were inspired by the Futurists known as the Vorticists, and Brooker used abstract shapes to suggest violence and movement. Painting in this way allowed Brooker to express the spirituality that he was trying to understand.

In 1923, Brooker met Lawren Harris and was sympathetic to the Group of Seven’s nationalist agenda, but he thought their view of the wilderness was too limited and that there were countless other ways for creating Canadian art. Both Harris and Brooker were interested in infusing spiritual values into paintings. Sponsored by Harris and Arthur Lismer in 1927, Brooker’s abstracts were given their first solo show at the Arts and Letters Club. Brooker’s radical paintings did not resonate with the viewers and was widely criticized. Until 1931, Brooker showed his art with the Group of Seven due to his compatibility with their aims.

Despite his artistic accomplishments, Brooker saw himself as a writer. However, Brooker continued to paint regularly and had an in-home studio. During the summer of 1929 Brooker met representational artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald. Inspired by FitzGerald and his own long-established passion for abstract art Brooker began expanding his style. It was at this time that he explored various genres, such as the nude and still lifes. Brooker never promoted his work to museums or dealers, and much of his work remained unsold during his lifetime.

Literature Source:
James King, “Bertram Brooker: Life & Work”, Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2018 (

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.