Artwork by Molly Lamb Bobak,  Highland Games, Fredericton

Molly Bobak
Highland Games, Fredericton

oil on canvas
signed lower right; signed, titled and inscribed “75” on the reverse
40 x 48 ins ( 101.6 x 121.9 cms )

Sold for $100,300.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Provenance:
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
The Collection of TC Energy, Toronto
Literature:
Laura Brandon quoted in Allison Lawler, “Molly Lamb Bobak was first Canadian Woman Sent Overseas as War Artist,” The Globe and Mail, [online], March 14, 2014
Michelle Gewurtz, Molly Lamb Bobak: Life & Work [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2018, pages 63-65
A trailblazer for women in the arts in Canada, Bobak was an official war artist during the Second World War and was stationed in England. She often gravitated towards scenes of crowds as she was inspired by the victory parades of the Allied forces at the end of the war. Bobak returned to Canada and began teaching at the University of New Brunswick in the fall of 1960. She also organized classes throughout the province and on television, becoming a well-known and inspiring instructor. She and her husband Bruno became the centre of Fredericton’s art scene, with strong ties to artists in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Bobak received several commissions and grew to be known for her paintings of official gatherings at the Legislature, City Hall, and other civic and public events in Fredericton and across the Maritimes.

The move to Fredericton supplied Bobak with new subject matter, and her work began to reflect a celebratory attitude towards public events and crowd scenes. “I think that it is an interest I have had ever since I was a kid,” she said. “I simply love gatherings, mingling... It’s like little ants crawling, the sort of insignificance and yet the beauty of people all getting together.” Her paintings depict people gathered in community spaces, often waving flags, cheering on sports teams in parades or commencement ceremonies. As her career progressed, she became increasingly concerned with movement and rhythm in her scenes of parades and sporting events, such as Highland Games, Fredericton. The large oil painting shows a parade of people in traditional Scottish dress, circulating through the streets during the Highland Games festival to celebrate the Scottish culture and heritage of New Brunswick. The energy and excitement of the scene is palpable; the viewer can almost hear the bagpipes being played as the band marches through the town. Scenes of modern urban life such as “Highland Games, Fredericton”, are considered to be Molly Bobak’s greatest artistic accomplishments, for they “achieve a careful balance of form, colour, and space, creating a clear, rationalized vision of moving scenes that are intentionally devoid of narrative.”

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Molly Lamb Bobak
(1922 - 2014) RCA

It could be said that Molly Lamb Bobak was destined to be an artist. She was born on Lulu Island, near Vancouver, British Columbia, on February 25, 1920. She grew up in a bohemian enclave. Her father, Harold Mortimer Lamb, was a photographer and art critic. In 1926, her father opened a commercial art gallery in Vancouver, exhibiting painters, sculptors, and photographers.

In 1938, Bobak attended art school at the Vancouver School of Art and studied under Jack Shadbolt, where she learned to improve her drawing and composition skills. While working at the Yellow Point Lodge during the summer of 1940, Lamb kept a diary filled with text and caricatures and drew everyone that she encountered. Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942. While serving, she found endless material to paint and included these paintings in her personal journal, which was later published and titled “W110278: The Personal War Records of Private Lamb, M”, which included 147 folios and fifty single sheet sketches. After being stationed in Alberta and Quebec, the military recognized her artistic abilities and invited her to attend a drafting course in Toronto. After finishing the course, Lamb tried to become an official war artist. In 1942, Lamb was sent to Ottawa where she drew at the Trades Training offices where she designed posters and Christmas cards. Three of Bobak’s drawings were purchased by the Art Gallery of Ontario in the same year.

In 1944, “Meal Parade, Hamilton Trades School” (n.d) tied for second prize at the National Gallery’s Canadian Army Art Show, which helped her receive the appointment as a war artist––the only woman who earned this designation. As women were not allowed on the active war front, Bobak was transferred to London, England, six weeks after Victory Day to document the aftermath of the war.

After leaving the military, Bobak settled with her husband Bruno, in Vancouver. After the move, Bobak had little time to paint as she was teaching night courses at the Vancouver School of Art and tending to her children. After earning a French scholarship in 1950, Bobak, her husband, and their two children traveled to Paris where she experienced the works of modernist painters like Cézanne and Matisse. Cézanne’s work in particular influenced Bobak’s art, which can be seen in the geometric organization of “A Bakership, Saint-Léonard” (1951) and “The Saint Ives Train” (1951). Throughout the late 1950s, the Bobaks spent much of their time in Europe after receiving funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

“In 1961, issue 71 of Canadian Art, a survey of 24 Canadian artists appeared, which included her photo, works, and comments written by Robert Fulford. Joan Lowndes in 1963 noted fewer flower pieces and more bustling cityscapes, outdoor activities and scenes with crowds of people in her work and linked her in this way to Pegi Nicol MacLeod. Making particular reference to her paintings of pubs she described this work in the following words ‘Only the figures in the foreground are silhouetted, in a heavier, more emphatic line and in new, high-keyed red orange. They recede into mere ovals, then into a haze of off-white and pink, which we readily translate into cigarette smoke, chatter, joviality . . . Molly Bobak powerfully projects an atmosphere’. This is perhaps the most essential quality of her work.”

After returning to Canada in 1961, Bobak was included in the second and third Canadian Biennales. Bobak exhibited frequently at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the University Art Centre in Fredericton, and throughout other public locations in the Maritimes. In 1973, Bobak was elected into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and in 1995 she was chosen to receive the Order of Canada. In 1993, the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan presented a major exhibition of Bobak’s work that toured to Ottawa, St. John’s, and Fredericton.

“Though she favoured watercolours, Bobak also worked in oils, conte and charcoal, working in an impressionistic style more concerned with capturing the essence of the scene rather than the details of her subject matter. Molly Lamb Bobak stopped painting at the age of 84 when her eyesight began to deteriorate and she passed away in 2014. Bobak's work can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian War Museum, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Glenbow Museum, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Military Museums of Alberta, and the Art Gallery of Alberta.”

Literature Sources:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977
Gewurtz, Michelle. Molly Lamb Bobak: Life and Work. Toronto: Art Institute of Canada, 2018 (https://aci-iac.ca/art-books/molly-lamb-bobak)

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography (with passages quoted from “A Dictionary of Canadian Artists).