Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Delta Ice House

Bertram Brooker
Delta Ice House

oil on canvas
signed lower right; titled and inscribed “Hart House ‘42” on the stretcher
24 x 30 ins ( 61 x 76.2 cms )

Sold for $82,600.00
Sale date: November 20th 2018

Provenance:
Private Collection, Ontario
Exhibited:
Bertram Brooker, Hart House Art Gallery, University of Toronto, January 1942
Bertram Brooker (1888-1955), The Morris Gallery, Toronto, October 23 - November 6, 1971, no. 14
Literature:
Bertram Brooker (1888-1955), exhibition catalogue, The Morris Gallery, Toronto, October 23 - November 6, 1971, cat. no.14, reproduced plate 10
James King, Bertram Brooker: Life & Work, Art Canada Institute [online publication], Toronto, 2018
Dennis Reid, Bertram Brooker (1888-1955), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1979, pages 16-17
Joyce Zemans, “First Fruits: The World and Spirit Paintings [Bertram Brooker]”, Provincial Essays, no. 7, 1989
As Dennis Reid notes, though Bertram Brooker lived in Toronto for much of his life, the artist always considered himself a “Winnipegger” at heart. Brooker’s affinity for his adopted hometown ran deep: after emigrating to Canada from Croydon, England with his family in 1905, Brooker settled for a time in Portage la Prairie and Neepawa, Manitoba, before finding work at local newspapers in Winnipeg. Long after he moved to Toronto in 1921 to pursue a career in advertising, the polymath’s strong ties to Manitoba continued to be reflected in many of his subjects throughout the 1930s and 1940s; of those ties, his life-long friendship with the artist Lionel LeMoine Fitzgerald would have the most profound impact on his growth as a painter.

A self-taught painter and graphic artist, Brooker was among the first artists in Canada to champion abstract art in the 1920s, though his groundbreaking experimental works at first failed to captivate contemporary audiences. After meeting Fitzgerald on a visit to Winnipeg in the summer of 1929, Brooker largely abandoned pure abstraction. Joyce Zemans suggests a reason for this ambivalence, writing that the artist “came to realize that most people could not respond to his abstract ‘world and spirit paintings’ and turned from his early experiments in abstraction.” Influenced and inspired by Fitzgerald’s subtle handling of form and sensitive depictions of his urban surroundings, Brooker instead began to explore the potential of abstraction as a means of representing the inner life of figural and organic structures.

With its dynamic synthesis of abstract and representational forms, “Delta Ice House” depicts a building on the property of a Brooker family cottage on Lake Manitoba at Delta, north of Portage la Prairie. In its subject matter alone, the work most closely resembles Fitzgerald’s landscapes of the 1930s; however, the energetic diagonal lines within the natural structures; the delicate, muted colours applied with a soft touch; and the reduction of familiar organic forms to their most essential, symbolic states is emblematic of Brooker’s singular, harmonious approach to painting. Though the artist would return to abstraction in his career, hybrid works such as “Delta Ice House” are important documents of Brooker’s significant shift to a more representational idiom.
Fetching more than three times its opening bid, this exceptional work by Brooker set a new auction record for the painter during the Fall 2018 Live Auction of Important Canadian Art.

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

Born in Croydon, England Bertram Brooker moved with his parents to Portage la Prairie in 1905. Brooker had no formal art education. He acquired a reputation as a writer, painter, musician, and poet. Brooker worked for the Winnipeg Telegram, the Regina Leader, the Winnipeg Free Press and then moved east to Toronto in 1921 where he joined the staff of Marketing, becoming its editor and publisher from 1924 to 1926. His interest in the arts led to his membership in the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto where he enjoyed the company of many professional artists. Graham McInnes noted “ . . . amateurs occasionally achieved professional rank, as in the case of Bertram Brooker, whose contribution to graphic art and illustration was both original and striking . . .”

Brooker, who associated with members of the Group of Seven, received material and advice from Bess Housser who was later to become Mrs. Lawren Harris. About 1928, he wrote a column under the title “The Seven Arts” which was syndicated to the Ottawa Citizen; the Journal, Edmonton; the Vancouver, and the Ottawa Citizen; the Journal, Edmonton; the Vancouver Province, and the Calgary Herald, in which he discussed the general happenings in architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, dancing and drama. His column often mentioned activities in which he had participated. Once, he told of how Dr. Frederick Banting and he had done each other’s portraits by sitting for an hour at a time. He also wrote of Emily Carr being shipwrecked during a summer sketching trip along the northern end of the British Columbia coast – not purely for gossip reasons, but he was discussing rugs she had made which he saw at the Clubrooms of the Women’s Art Association of Toronto – he concluded his report – “Details of what happened did not reach me, except that she managed to bring back a number of interesting sketches.” Brooker was a charter member of the Canadian Group of Painters and he won the Governor General's Award for fiction in 1936 for his first novel "Think of Earth".

He preferred realism during the late '20s and early '30s. It was during this time that he was influenced by LeMoin FitzGerald, a friend of Brooker's and contemporary artist. Brooker’s drawings showed the influence of William Blake and El Greco, both of whom he had intimate knowledge, as he gave lectures about these men to audiences at the National Gallery in Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Toronto. His illustrations included a series on the “Ancient Mariner” and on “Crime and Punishment”. His illustrations for the “Ancient Mariner” shared a certain affinity with the drawings of mountainous lake country done by Lawren S. Harris. Paul Duval noted his work in pencil and pen drawing, and the kinship he shared with artist Kathleen Munn, he said, “Brooker and Munn did a series of fastidiously executed landscapes and still-lifes which possess an almost silverpoint delicacy. Kathleen Munn also shared with Brooker a deep interest in religious symbolism . . .”

Brooker was very interested in music and his abstracts in this direction were worthy of attention. The Toronto Telegram credited him as being the first to sense a relationship between the abstract forms of music and the composition of paintings. Robert Ayre remarked how Brooker might have contributed more in Canadian drawing and painting had he note have been so diverse a man, but in the same breath, said that he is to be honoured for his pioneering spirit in his writing and editing.

Bertram Brooker was an artist of several mediums and is a key example of liberation and innovation in the extensive history of Canadian art. Through a diversity of artistic interpretations and styles, Brooker captured both spiritual and commercial perspectives. At the time of Brooker’s death he was Vice-President of the McLaren Advertising, a firm he had joined in 1937. Brooker was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists, The Royal Canadian Academy, the Canadian Group of Painters, and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour. A memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1956.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977