Artwork by Molly Lamb Bobak,  Beach Crowd

Molly Bobak
Beach Crowd

oil on canvas
signed lower right
36 x 48 ins ( 91.4 x 121.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$40,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $108,000.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2021

Provenance:
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal
Private Collection, Boston
Literature:
Michelle Gewurtz, “Molly Lamb Bobak: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2018, pages 63-65
One of Canada’s most celebrated figurative artists, Molly Lamb Bobak grew up surrounded by art. Her father, Harold Mortimer-Lamb, was a professional photographer, art critic and early champion of the Group of Seven. In Vancouver, where the artist was raised, he hosted intellectual and artistic soirées at his home, in addition to running a commercial gallery for Canadian painting, sculpture and photography. Molly was very much exposed to her father’s art scene, which left a lasting impression. Complemented by her mother’s progressive and independent spirit, and her belief in pursuing one’s interests, she was motivated to enroll at the Vancouver School of Art in 1938.

“Beach Crowd” is a prime example of the artist’s lively crowd scenes, populated with frolicking beach-goers in colourful swimsuits. Largely faceless, the figures’ identities are secondary, as is the seascape in the background; rather, emphasis is on movement, rhythm and colour. Bobak’s interest in depicting crowds, which became one of her best- known subjects, began at a young age and developed through many stages in her life. “I think that it is an interest I have had ever since I was a kid,” the artist 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.”

In the summer of 1940, while Bobak was employed as a maid at Yellow Point Lodge on Vancouver Island, she began keeping a diary, combining text with caricature drawings of the various people she encountered. The diary drew inspiration from the work of French artist and caricaturist Honoré Daumier.

In the autumn of 1942, Molly Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and was first stationed in England. There, she found a multitude of figural subjects; as she later wrote in Canadian Art, “and everywhere you turn there is something terrific to paint. There is endless material in one barracks alone, though—one could spend hours at the desk in the main hall, drawing the C.W.A.C.’s checking in and out, the new recruits, the fatigue girls in their overalls, the orderly officer.” She also gravitated toward the crowd scenes of the victory parades of the Allied forces at the end of the war.

She returned to Canada in 1945 with Bruno Bobak, a fellow Canadian War Artist, and the couple got married that same year. They settled in Vancouver in 1947, where both Bruno and Molly took on teaching positions at the Vancouver School of Art - he during the day and she at night. She felt frustrated with her “stagnant” progress as an artist, as a result of being conditioned to document war scenes in a realistic, literal manner. She consulted Jack Shadbolt, former teacher and mentor, who suggested she revisit the formal elements of painting, focusing on line, shape, and colour rather than representational themes. This advice led her to further experiment and cultivate her own personal aesthetic as a mature painter.

In the 1950s, the Bobaks, who at this point had two children, spent a significant amount of time in Europe, including a year in France. In Paris, Molly Bobak was directly exposed to the work of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. The post-impressionist and early Cubist styles deepened her interest in pattern and structured compositions. Molly Bobak’s approach to painting matured as she honed her formal painterly concerns and applied them to her preferred subjects—crowds, floral still-life paintings, landscapes, and urban scenes.

For several years after settling in Fredericton in 1960, the Bobaks returned to Europe every summer, immersing themselves in modern art and renewing their contact with art, artists and curators. The move to Fredericton supplied Molly Bobak with new subject matter, and her work began to reflect a celebratory attitude toward urban landscapes and especially the people who populated them. She 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. As she explained to curator Joan Murray, “I have always been interested in informal movement—blowing wild flowers, parades, protests, crowds on the street, crowds anywhere; just as long as they turn into painting space in my head.”

She experimented with different perspectives in her crowd scenes - at times, she placed the viewer as part of the assembled crowd by using a ground-level perspective. In “Beach Crowd”, the viewer is placed at an elevated distance, accentuating the energy and sense of movement through a new perspective. Michelle Gewurtz writes of Bobak’s crowd scenes: “They achieve a careful balance of form, colour, and space, creating a clear, rationalized vision of moving scenes that are intentionally devoid of narrative.” The cheery and vibrant Beach Crowd is an important and monumental example of Molly Lamb Bobak’s figurative scenes, which are considered to be her greatest artistic accomplishment.

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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).