Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Summer Afternoon/The Lovers

Jack Bush
Summer Afternoon/The Lovers

oil on board
signed and dated 1951 lower right
30 x 40 ins ( 76.2 x 101.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$30,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $28,320.00
Sale date: May 28th 2019

Jack Bush, Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 1952, no. 17
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto, Spring 2014
Terry Fenton, Jack Bush: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1976, unpaginated
Christine Boyanoski, Jack Bush: Early Work, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1986, pages 22-23
Dennis Reid, “Jack Bush: The Development of a Canadian Painter”, in Karen Wilkin (ed.), Jack Bush, Toronto, 1984, pages 18-19
Conscious of their relative isolation from major centres of artistic production and emboldened by the activities of their American contemporaries in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jack Bush and a generation of emerging Canadian abstract painters looked stateside, turning to New York for creative fuel and finding no shortage of inspiration there. Travelling for the first time to the city in 1950 as a member of the Toronto chapter of the Art Director’s Club, Bush eagerly synthesized the insights he gleaned from his exposure to canonical works of American and European art. Reminiscing on these formative experiences in 1976, Bush recalled how this initial trip to New York became a yearly tradition, one that influenced his representational painting “to such an extent” that the artist “started painting canvases that were semi-abstract, [though] still with the figure or landscape.” Several of the resulting works from this productive period of 1950 to 1951 were included in exhibitions at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto (Jack Bush) and Adelaide House in Oshawa (Canadian Abstraction Exhibition). Well-received by the press and considered “very successful” by the artist himself, the 1952 exhibitions showcased Bush’s efforts to arrive at a unique visual language that could act as vehicle for both his formal experimentations and his desire for emotional expression.

Though recognizable as reclining human figures in an idyllic landscape, the male and female forms of “Summer Afternoon/The Lovers” are fragmented, their entwined limbs approaching abstraction in this depiction of a passionate embrace. Still working with heavy applications of paint‒Bush would not begin thinning his pigments until later in the 1950s–the artist was beginning to isolate and geometricize shapes within his compositions, often employing a network of assertive black outlines to distinguish his subject matter. As Dennis Reid has written of Bush’s works from this era, “form is simplified,” and colour “functions independently of the forms” to convey pure emotion. Flat planes of rich complementary colours applied with vigorous diagonal brushstrokes serve dual purpose here, lending compositional balance to the active surface of the painting and heightening the psychic intensity of the scene, particularly in the red pigment between the lovers’ faces, and in the variegated hues of the lush bramble that conceals their encounter. “Summer Afternoon/The Lovers” belongs to a body of work which constitutes the artist’s shift from a tentative acknowledgement of trends in American and European modernism toward the expression of a visual idiom of his own, one he would continue to develop in earnest after officially aligning with the Painters Eleven in 1953. Conscious of the possibilities of international aesthetic developments, the artist nevertheless acknowledges his roots: the red canoe and sun-drenched rock cut in the distance situate Bush’s “dejeuner sur l’herbe” within a welcoming and decidedly Canadian pictorial tradition.

The preceding essay was written by Consignor Canadian Fine Art specialists.

“Summer Afternoon/The Lovers” will be included in the forthcoming “Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné”. We thank Dr. Sarah Stanners for providing cataloguing details related to the artwork.

Share this item with your friends

Jack Hamilton Bush
(1909 - 1977) Painters Eleven, Canadian Group of Painters, 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.