Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Purple, Lime, Brown

Jack Bush
Purple, Lime, Brown

oil on canvas
titled and dated “1965 March” on the reverse
72 x 69 ins ( 182.9 x 175.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $550,000.00$350,000.00 - $550,000.00

Price Realized $432,000.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2021

The artist (December 1964 - March 1965)
Clement Greenberg, New York (March 1965 - October 1965), on loan
Waddington Galleries, London, UK (October 1965)
Collection of Andy and Deborah Williams
Sotheby’s New York, auction, March 12, 2021, Lot 39 (as “Untitled”)
Loch Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
“Jack Bush”, Waddington Galleries, London, UK (1965)
“Jack Bush” [Exhibition Catalogue], Waddington Galleries, London, 1965, n.p., cat. no. 6 [dated 1964]
Nigel Gosling, ‘One-Man Pleasures’, “The Observer”, London, 17 October 1965
In October 1965, “Purple, Lime, Brown” made its public debut at Jack Bush’s first solo exhibition outside of North America at Waddington Galleries in London, UK. It is one of only nine paintings installed in this inaugural European exhibition. To use the local lingo of the Swinging Sixties, the show was a smashing success! That year, Bush was on hiatus from showing in Canada for exactly this purpose – to make a strong first impression overseas by reserving some of his best paintings from 1964 and early 1965. He let the cream rise to the top, and the Londoners ate it up. Art critic Nigel Gosling, writing for The Observer noted, “with these nine paintings, Bush has arrived.”

The exhibition, simply titled “Jack Bush”, was promoted with a sleek brochure, with minimal copy elegantly typeset with lowercase letters in a sans serif font. The back of this glossy publication was designed more traditionally and listed the stable of artists who were permanently represented by Waddington Galleries. Bush’s name appears alongside noteworthy contemporaries such as Hitchens, Bell, Avery, Hilton, Heron, Diebenkorn, Frost, Annesley, and others. The exhibition marked the beginning of an agreement between the artist and Leslie Waddington, who guaranteed an income to Bush in exchange for the exclusive rights to sell his work in Europe. It was the start of a long relationship with the gallery on Cork Street. Not until 1974, with the exhibition “Jack Bush: Neue Bilder” at the André Emmerich Gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, did he allow another dealer other than Waddington to offer his paintings for sale in Europe.

Amid this history of Bush’s splash onto the London scene is a preliminary stop in New York City, at the heart of it all, in a living room on Central Park West that was often the setting for gatherings of artists and tastemakers who could make or break the careers of modernist painters. In a nutshell, or a tube as the case was, Bush rolled up eight of his paintings in March 1965 and sent them to his friend, and art critic, Clement Greenberg, who then showed them to Waddington in his apartment in April 1965. The London dealer did not need convincing. From Greenberg’s phone in New York, Waddington called Bush in Toronto and, on the spot, offered him a show that fall. The London location and the October date were prestigious, especially for a first exhibition with a new dealer. At Waddington’s request, and with the artist’s approval, the paintings were rolled for transport overseas and, upon arrival to London, were stretched and framed in time for an exhibition preview on October 5th.

Before the arguments brew that Greenberg steered and selected the works for this first London show, the fact is that Bush only sent eight paintings to Greenberg that spring, all of which delighted Waddington and, unexpectedly, the ninth painting for the show came from Greenberg’s own collection, at the insistence of Waddington. Bush made the selections by virtue of the paintings he chose to ship out of his studio and over to Greenberg’s apartment. Eight were sent, one was added, and together the nine went to Waddington.

“Purple, Lime, Brown” has only just returned to Canada, in 2021, after a 56-year-long sojourn abroad. Previously, and for several decades, the painting was in the collection of the American singer Andy Williams. Williams passed away in 2012 and one year later, in 2013, four significant Bush paintings from his collection went to auction at Christie’s, New York, and garnered a staggering total of 1.6M (USD). For reasons unknown, the widow, Deborah Williams, held on to “Purple, Lime, Brown”, until March 2021 when it surfaced at auction in New York, listed as “Untitled” (c. 1965), presented in an alternate manner, with the brown section of the composition at the top.

The Covid-19 pandemic played a part in the painting being sold without a title (i.e., “Untitled”) and with a circa date. With travel restrictions and warranted priorities for health and safety, I was unable to leave Canada to examine this painting in person, as is my practice and policy before I can confirm that a painting will be included in the “Jack Bush Catalogue Raisonné”. This process is especially important in the case of paintings that come forward without a title or date. I advised that a closer examination of the verso be conducted since I suspected that an inscription might be hidden under the wooden stretcher, especially since the artist often allowed his dealers to stretch and frame his paintings upon delivery, rather than in his own studio. Without removing the canvas from its wooden stretcher, the original title and date could not be determined.

The painting was sold on March 12th, 2021, as “Untitled” (c. 1965) and was shipped to the new owner in Toronto soon after the sale. Upon invitation to examine the painting for the purposes of the catalogue raisonné, I made the recommendation to remove the stretcher to allow for a full examination. The resulting conservation report, which was made in Toronto at the orders of the new owner, confirmed that the painting was inscribed after all, but the inscription, located in the upper left corner (verso), was obscured by the wooden stretcher bar. The painting’s identity, written by the hand of Jack Bush, was revealed: “Purple, Lime, Brown 1965 March / 70 x 70.” The same title appears in the artist’s own record book of paintings, on page 32, where Bush has written:

“Purple, Lime, Brown”
70 x 70
painted Dec 1964, 1000.00
sent to Clem N.Y. rolled, March 1965 To Waddington, London Oct 1965

The small discrepancy in the height of the painting, which was measured by Bush at 70 inches but later stretched at 72 inches, might explain why the artist’s inscription remained hidden for so many years.

After fifty-six years abroad, “Purple, Lime, Brown” is making another debut, appearing for the first time at a Canadian auction house. So, you might ask, where are the other eight paintings from Bush’s first exhibition in London? Most of the paintings remain out of reach, still abroad or hidden. To date, the catalogue raisonné project has determined the following:

• “Charcoal Band” (1965) (illustrated in the images to the left) and “Joseph’s Coat” (1965) are in the University of Warwick Art Collection (acquired as gifts from Alistair McAlpine, Baron McAlpine of West Green).
• “Jules” (1964) is in a private collection in the U.S.A.
• “Pinched Orange” (1964) and “Untitled” (1964) are in private collections in Canada.
• “Orange, Brown” (1964) is in a bank collection based in Toronto.
• “Green Red” (1964) and “Red Suede” (1964) remain untraced.

Where will “Purple, Lime, Brown” reside next? I hope to find out soon. Whoever buys this important painting will become a part of its history, recorded in the provenance and, even if noted anonymously, it will mark the next chapter in the life of this work of art, a life that extends indefinitely. Like a patina, the provenance of a painting – including the places it travels – can make a canvas richer, more meaningful, and, in a way that is hard to describe in words, it can exude an intangible, yet palpable, aura of historical presence according to what, and to whom, it has bore witness. If after reading this essay, you have found “Purple, Lime, Brown” to be more attractive than before you began reading, it is not because of the paint or the colours, since none were described. The significance of the history that this painting represents is of value, and since history cannot be changed, that value will never depreciate.

Nevertheless, the beauty of this painting must be acknowledged. “Purple, Lime, Brown” is an exemplar of Bush’s best work in oil. No matter how much time passes, the colours are radiant, saturated like sultry velvet, and freshly impress as if painted anew. The combination of red-orange, purplish pink, pistachio green, and two doses of brown work surprisingly well together, like an impromptu jazz performance that excites its audience with unexpected notes and rhythm. Bush knew exactly what he was doing, and both the history and composition of this painting proves the point.

The timeline and social interactions mentioned in this essay have been established by reference to the artist’s diary and record books, which are held in the Jack Bush fonds at the E.P. Taylor Research Library & Archives, Art Gallery of Ontario.

This painting will be included in Dr. Stanners’ 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 Paintings: A 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.
Among the star highlights of the Fall 2021 Live Auction was this monumental 1965 canvas by Jack Bush entitled, “Purple, Lime, Brown”. Owned for decades by beloved singer and variety show host, Andy Williams and his wife, Deborah, this painting is a prime example of Bush’s best work in oil. Executed during a significant time in the artist’s career in 1965, the year in which Bush held his first solo European exhibition at London’s Waddington Galleries. Bush reserved his best work from 1964 and early 1965, in total nine paintings, to impress the overseas crowd for this important exhibition. “Purple, Lime, Brown” was one such work. After Williams passed away in 2012, four significant Bush paintings from their collection went up for auction in 2013. However, the estate held on to “Purple, Lime, Brown” until March 2021, when it was sold at auction in New York. The painting then returned to Canada, after 56 years abroad, to be offered by Cowley Abbott in the November 22nd evening auction. This important 1965 work by the celebrated colour-field painter has now found its new home with a Canadian buyer after ascending to $420,000 after considerable competition between bidders at the Four Seasons Hotel. This masterwork is of similar importance and quality to Bush’s “Column on Browns”, a canvas that set an artist record at auction selling for $870,000 at Cowley Abbott in the fall of 2020. Cowley Abbott is thrilled to have been entrusted with these phenomenal artworks.

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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.