Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  The Broken Window

Jack Bush
The Broken Window

oil on masonite
signed and dated 1950 upper left; “Jack Bush Art Estate” and “Jack Bush Heritage Corporation” labels attached to the reverse
26 x 20 ins ( 66 x 50.8 cms )

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

Price Realized $23,600.00
Sale date: November 20th 2018

Private Collection, Ontario
Hymn to the Sun: Jack Bush Early Work 1929-1956, Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie, 1997 (also presented at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax)
Jack Bush, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, November 13, 2014 – February 22, 2015, no. 36
Christine Boyanoski, Jack Bush: Early Work, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1986, pages 18-19
Jack Bush, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2014, reproduced page 131, listed page 247, no. 36
Dennis Reid, “Jack Bush: The Development of a Canadian Painter,” in Jack Bush, ed. Karen Wilkin, Toronto, 1984, page 18
Michael Burtch, “Hymn to the Sun: Jack Bush Early Work 1929-1956”, Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie, 1997, reproduced page 85
Marc Mayer, “Jack Bush: A Double Life,” in Jack Bush, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2014, pages 16-18
In the latter half of the 1940s, Jack Bush’s work took a sombre turn. Persistently dark in palette and theme, many of the works Bush painted in this era exude a formal and psychological uneasiness seemingly at odds with the radiant self-assuredness of the mature paintings for which the artist is best known. Precursors to Bush’s sumptuous abstract canvases of the 1960s and 1970s, figurative works from this formative period of the artist’s career are striking studies of tension: there is a palpable angst to Bush’s tortured subjects, barren landscapes, and haunted houses of the postwar era. Often interpreted as indexes of a collective or personal malaise (Bush sought medical treatment for “tension” beginning in September of 1947), works like “The Broken Window” are among the most charged of Bush’s early efforts—not only for their increasingly personal and emotive content, but also for their unmistakably modern appearance. To wholly ascribe these significant formal shifts to the artist’s state of mind or to the dour zeitgeist of Bush’s times would be to overlook the crucial influence of international modernist traditions on the eventual development of his singular approach to abstraction.

If the first two decades of Jack Bush’s career had been marked by an engagement with the aesthetic preoccupations of his contemporaries in the Toronto art scene, his works of the late 1940s and early 1950s reveal an expanded awareness of the formal qualities of American and European modern art. As both Christine Boyanoski and Marc Mayer have noted, by 1947 Bush had grown dissatisfied with the direction his practice had taken. Already troubled by his “double life” as a commercial illustrator by day and painter by night, Bush and his critical judgment were further tested by exposure to contemporary periodicals and to traveling exhibitions of modern art held at the Art Museum of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). By 1950, however, Bush seemed newly invigorated: he had begun to paint more freely and intuitively and had been elected to two prominent artist groups—the Canadian Group of Painters and the Toronto chapter of the Art Director’s Club. It was in his capacity as a member of the latter organization that Bush travelled to New York City in 1950. There, he visited the Museum of Modern Art, viewing works he had until then known only in reproduction. If the artist had been unsure about adopting abstract techniques prior to his trip, he returned to Toronto more willing than ever to put what he had learned to the test in works like “The Broken Window”.

Painted between December 1950 and January 1951, the composition intrigues with its hybrid character and enigmatic subject. Seeming to combine the flattened, geometric planes of synthetic cubism with the jagged angst of German Expressionism, “The Broken Window” is an investigation of the affective potential of elemental form and colour. As Dennis Reid has written of Bush’s works from this era, “form is simplified,” and “colour is used exclusively for its symbolic, emotional value. Not only does the colour have nothing to do with verisimilitude, but it functions independently of the forms.” Here, the chromatic melancholy of Bush’s bleak houses and funereal landscapes of the mid-1940s has lifted, and the artist’s colours begin to approach their signature vibrancy. Earthen tones have given way to rich green, turquoise, and yellow pigments applied in flat strokes to form angular planes delineated by a network of calligraphic black lines and white highlights that hearken to Bush’s training in the graphic arts. With his shock of straw-coloured hair, mismatched swirls for eyes, and triangular gash of a nose, Bush’s boldly outlined figure is strongly geometricized, and his eerie pallor and erratic limbs lend him an otherworldly character. Holding in his oversized hands the shattered fragments of a broken pane that had separated him from the viewer, he, like Bush, stands at the cusp of a literal breakthrough.

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Jack Hamilton Bush
(1909 - 1977) Painters Eleven, OSA, ARCA

A founding member of the Painters Eleven group and the subject of major retrospectives at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1976) and the National Gallery of Canada (2014), Jack Bush (born March 20, 1909 in Toronto; died January 24, 1977 in Toronto) was one of Canada’s most influential artists. Among the first Canadian painters of his generation to achieve international success in his lifetime, Bush was a masterful draftsman and colourist whose works are coveted by major institutions and private collectors throughout the world. Born in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto in 1909, Bush spent his childhood in London, Ontario, and Montréal, Québec, where he studied at the Royal Canadian Academy and apprenticed as a commercial artist in his father’s business, Rapid Electro Type Company. After relocating in 1928 to work in the firm’s Toronto offices, his interest in fine art grew through contact with members of the Group of Seven, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Canadian Group of Painters. Working as a commercial artist by day, Bush painted and took night classes at the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design University) throughout the 1930s, studying under Frederick Challener, John Alfsen, George Pepper, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Charles Comfort. After forming the commercial design firm Wookey, Bush and Winter in 1942 with partners Leslie Wookey and William Winter, Bush remained engaged in the graphic art world until his retirement in 1968.

Like many of his contemporaries in Toronto, Bush had little exposure to international trends of modernism during his formative years as a painter. For nearly two decades, he drew inspiration for his landscape and figural paintings from works by members of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Canadian Group of Painters. Though he began to incorporate non-representational elements in his work in the late 1940s, Bush’s more focused experimentations with formal abstraction in the early 1950s reveal the conspicuous influence of his eventual encounters with modern artwork in Toronto and New York City. In 1953, Bush joined the newly-founded Toronto artist group Painters Eleven. Through his involvement in the group’s efforts to promote abstract painting in Canada, Bush met the influential New York City art critic Clement Greenberg. Their resulting friendship would influence Bush’s early development as an abstract painter, with Greenberg serving as an occasional mentor to the artist, encouraging him to abandon his Abstract Expressionist style in favour of a brighter, more refined palette and technique. Through his association with Painters Eleven, Bush became closely tied to Colour Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction—two movements that had evolved from Abstract Expressionism. After the group disbanded in 1959, Bush’s distinguished career was marked by numerous achievements, including the opportunity to represent Canada at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1967, after which his art found considerable commercial success in the United States (Bush had already been showing his work in New York City since 1962). In 1963, Hugo McPherson in his review of Bush’s showing at the Gallery Moos, Toronto, linked Bush with Matisse as follows, “...he reminds us of the classical joy and simplicity of the later Matisse. This is his richest vein. His comments on France, Italy, and Spain, and his observations titled ‘Red on Pink’ and ‘Growing Plant’ are at once spare and bright and probing.”

In 1972, Bush was the subject of the inaugural survey exhibition in the modern wing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Four years later, the Art Gallery of Ontario organized a major touring retrospective of his work. Bush as a member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, 1942 (former President); Ontario Society of Artists (former Vice-President) 1943; Associate Royal Canadian Academician, 1946; Canadian Group of Painters’, 1948, and the Art Directors’ Club of Toronto. In 2014, the National Gallery of Canada hosted a major retrospective exhibition of Jack Bush’s work. A comprehensive catalogue raisonné of Bush’s work is set to be released in the coming years.

Jack Bush died at the age of 68 in 1977, one year after he received the honour of Officer of the Order of Canada.