Artwork by Oscar Cahén,  Dancers

Oscar Cahén

india ink and scratch board
signed “Oscar” and dated 1943 lower right
5.75 x 5.75 ins ( 14.6 x 14.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $800.00$600.00 - $800.00

Price Realized $1,800.00
Sale date: May 31st 2022

Acquired directly from the artist
Private Collection, Ontario
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario

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Oscar Cahén
(1916 - 1956) Painters Eleven

Danish born, Cahén and his family fled Europe during the Second World War to escape the rise of Nazism. He had studied at the academy of Art in Dresden, also in schools in Paris, Italy, and Stockholm, and received his Master’s degree at a German art school. He became a professor at the Rotters Studio in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he taught design and illustration. The artists father was a diplomat turned anti-Nazi activist and given the political climate of Europe, the family first moved to England in 1938 for safety. Unfortunately, due to British policy regarding the management of refugees, internees and other suspects in time of war or emergency enacted in 1940, the artist was forced to board a prison boat bound for an internment camp in Sherbrooke, Quebec as an enemy alien.

Before Cahén's initial arrival in Canada, he had classical painting training in Europe while he and his family moved around the continent, avoiding Nazi politics. While in Sherbrooke, Cahén often sketched scenes of his daily life at the camp. It was not until Beatrice Shapiro, a staff writer for Magazine Digest, was granted an interview with Cahén at the camp and was able to help find him work to release him from the camp. Using her contacts at The Standard, Maclean's and Chatelaine, Shapiro guaranteed enough work for Cahén as an illustrator to grant him release form the camp in 1942.

Working as an illustrator, the artist then moved to Toronto to work as an art director for Magazine Digest while he worked on his own artistic practice. Throughout the 1940's and into the 1950's, two themes emerged from the artist's work: religion and grief. Captured in the style of abstract expressionism with cubism influenced by his European counterparts, crescents, talons and claws figured prominently as recurring forms. As part of the Toronto group, Painters 11, Cahén's style, use of bright colours and experimentation with mixed media on paperboard influenced and complemented the other member's practices which stood in stark contrast to the traditional landscape painters who came before them.

He completed a mural for the cafeteria of the Imperial Oil Building on St. Clair Street, Toronto, which Robert Fulford described in these words, “This work, almost his last, seems to me the best example of wall painting in Toronto. It reflects Cahén at his most characteristic, gay, robust, defiantly optimistic; a most appropriate monument.” Paul Duval once wrote “Cahén gloried in colour. With an almost unerring sense of harmony, he would merge pure reds, violent yellows, blues and black into a single picture.”

The artists career ended prematurely in 1956 when he died in a car crash near his home in Oakville. During this period, Cahén's work was developing and maturing with use of signature black, pink and orange colours figuring prominently in his works and international recognition taking off. Noted Canadian artist and Painters 11 member Tom Hodgson stated, “Oscar Cahén was outstanding...I can't think of anyone in any place, any country, any time, who was a better colourist- I just thought that he was the best colourist anywhere.”

A retrospective exhibition of his oils, water colours, graphics (43 in number) took place at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1959 through the auspices of the Ontario Society of Artists. Another exhibition of his work was held at the Jerrold Morris gallery in 1963 when a catalogue foreword was written by Elizabeth Kilbourn. In the winter that year another showing of 20 Cahén drawings took place at the Morris gallery.

His awards include: certificate for a Maclean’s cover in 1951; an O’Keefe certificate award for a painting used in the Canadian Achievements Program, 1951; the T.D.F. Award for 1953; The Canadian National Exhibition Purchase Award for 1955; The Canadian Society of Graphic Art Purchase Award 1955, and numerous other medals and certificates.