Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Girl with Red Hair

Jack Bush
Girl with Red Hair

oil on board
signed lower left; signed, titled and dated 1949 on the reverse
30 x 24 ins ( 76.2 x 61 cms )

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

Price Realized $48,000.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Collection of the artist (October 1949-1974)
Estate of the artist
Sotheby’s Canada, auction, Toronto, November 23, 2010, Lot 133
Private Collection, Ontario
Jack Bush, Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 1952, no. 11
“Jack Bush Exhibit,” Saturday Night 67, March 29, 1952, page 20
“The Lesson From Jack Bush Exhibit,” The Globe and Mail, February 16, 1952
Jack Bush was forty years old when he painted “Girl with Red Hair”. He was, by 1949, recovering from a midlife crisis, but medical guidance, faith, and painting ushered in a more positive and modern path for the artist. While he had started to experiment with abstraction, paintings such as “Girl with Red Hair” point to his lingering affinity to representational art, and – as may well be the case here – religious topics.

There is no way to know for sure what, or who, Bush was thinking of when he painted “Girl with Red Hair”, but there were common themes in his work at this time, which may reveal his intentions. In 1949, Bush remained firmly rooted in his High Anglican upbringing. It is possible that the redhead in this painting – who also appears to be veiled – may represent Mary Magdalene. Throughout art history, Mary Magdalene has often been represented with red hair. If this subject is a biblical figure, it is not the only one in the artist’s work from the same year. Bush also painted “The Virgin” (including a white veil) and “Job” in 1949.

There is, however, a distinct sense of modernity about the girl in this painting. Her bobbed haircut with micro-bangs is a style found to be surging back today, many thanks to the popularity of the redhead Beth Harmon’s style in the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit”. While this television series was set in the 60s, Bush’s “Girl with Red Hair” is from the late 1940s, so if his subject was inspired by the likes of a modern woman, it would have been from a more contemporary source, such as the 1948 film “Good-Time Girl” featuring the redheaded actress Jean Kent. Or, in terms of exact timing, it is entirely possible that this black-hooded girl with red hair may have simply been in keeping with a Halloween theme, perhaps representing a witch, since it was painted in the month of October.

“Girl with Red Hair” was included in the artist’s first solo show with Roberts Gallery, notably Canada’s longest-running commercial art gallery. The popular magazine” Saturday Night” hailed the paintings in this show as possessing a “highly personal integration of mood
and form” and concluded that “Jack Bush has opened a new vein which might lead him to some rich future discoveries in paint.” Pearl McCarthy, who was known for her biting art criticism in the pages of “The Globe and Mail”, also celebrated Bush’s “very real appeal” with this exhibition. Bush was on his way as a modern painter and – at midlife – it would prove to be just the beginning.

“Girl with Red Hair” will be included in the forthcoming “Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné”.

We extend our thanks to Dr. Sarah Stanners for contributing the preceding essay. Sarah is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Art History while writing the forthcoming “Jack Bush Catalogue Raisonné”. From 2015 to 2018 she
was the Chief Curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Co-Curator of the 2014/2015 national travelling exhibition, “Jack Bush”, Co-Author of the resulting 2014 exhibition catalogue (”Jack Bush”) and guest curator and author for “Jack Bush: In Studio”, organized by the Esker Foundation in Calgary.

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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.