Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Still Life (Variation No.3)

Bertram Brooker
Still Life (Variation No.3)

oil on board
signed lower right; titled and estate stamps on the reverse
11 x 14.25 ins ( 27.9 x 36.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $16,000.00$12,000.00 - $16,000.00

Price Realized $24,000.00
Sale date: June 15th 2022

Galerie Jeanne Newman, Montreal (1973)
Private Collection, Montreal
Canadian National Exhibition, Department of Small Pictures, Toronto, August 26 - September 10, 1938, no. 503
James King, “Bertram Brooker: Life & Work” [online publication], Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2018, reproduced page 74, see page 71 for similar work “Cabbage and Pepper”
Department of Small Pictures, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, 1938, cat. no. 503, listed as “Still Life”
A forerunner of abstract art in Canada, the self-trained Bertram Brooker was a skilled draftsman, talented advertising artist and businessman. His extensive experience with graphic illustrations provided the artist with a keen eye for compositional balance, proportion and contrast between light and dark in his works. Brooker was among the first artists in Canada to champion abstract art in the 1920s. His abstract compositions drew on his philosophy of Ultimatism, his knowledge of early twentieth century art movements such as Cubism, Vorticism and Futurism, as well as his interest in music.

From about 1929, Brooker’s paintings evolved from abstraction toward representation. He met fellow artist Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald in the summer of 1929, whose work inspired Brooker to abandon pure abstraction to explore the potential of abstraction as a means of representing the inner life of figural and organic structures.

“Still Life (Variation No. 3)” was one of two still-life paintings by Brooker included in the 1938 CNE exhibition in the “Canadian Small Pictures” section. Brooker’s “Variation No. 3” appears to be an abstract version of the second painting, which depicted an arrangement of cabbage and peppers on white paper, a white tablecloth and a brown paper bag. The two works share the same compositional arrangement; In “Variation No. 3”, the central pale blue and green circles represent cabbage and a green pepper, the brown shapes on the right-hand side indicate the red peppers and a paper bag, and the grey and white angular forms reference the crinkled paper and tablecloth. It appears that Brooker wanted to demonstrate in the exhibition how he could toggle between representation and abstraction in paintings that shared a basic iconography of forms.

We extend our thanks to Michael-Parke Taylor, Canadian art historian, curator and author of “Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald: Life & Work” (Art Canada Institute) for his assistance in researching the preceding essay.

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Bertram Richard Brooker
(1888 - 1955) Canadian Group of Painters, RCA

Born in 1888 in London, England, Bertram Brooker was one of Canada’s first abstract painters. Brooker attended school until age twelve when he went to work as a domestic servant at Fuller’s Dairy. Brooker had an early interest in art and music. His first painting was a watercolour from 1899 featuring exultant Christ. Unfortunately, this work does not survive. Brooker was a choirboy at the St. James Anglican Church in Croydon. In 1905, Brooker’s family immigrated to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Here, Brooker worked with his father at the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

In his early twenties, Brooker traveled to England and New York City. On this trip he probably encountered modern theatre and contemporary art, such as the first Post-Impressionist exhibition organized by Roger Fry in 1910. From 1911-14 he was active in the local theatre community and directed a play called Much Ado About Something. In 1914, Brooker became the editor of the Portage Review. He would later work as a designer, music and drama editor, and director for various newspapers in Winnipeg and Regina. In 1920, Brooker and his brother moved to Brandon, Manitoba, and opened a cinema in the Neepawa Opera House. Brooker wrote and sold several scripts about a detective, Lambert Chace, while in Brandon. Three of these films survive.

In 1921, Brooker moved to Toronto to work at the Globe and at Marketing. Three years later, Brooker purchased Marketing and became the publisher and editor. In 1927, Brooker sold the company back to its original owner. In 1929, Brooker began working at J.J. Gibbons Advertising Agency. He worked there until 1936 where he was hired at MacLaren Advertising, where he worked until 1955, and eventually became the Vice-President of the company.

While visiting a Presbyterian church in Dwight at the Lake of Bays in Ontario, Brooker experienced a moment of awakening and came to understand that the role of artists was to instruct society on getting in touch with their spiritual values. He began creating nonfigurative paintings in tempera that were inspired by his enlightenment at the church. The style adopted by Brooker was indebted to a group of English artists who were inspired by the Futurists known as the Vorticists, and Brooker used abstract shapes to suggest violence and movement. Painting in this way allowed Brooker to express the spirituality that he was trying to understand.

In 1923, Brooker met Lawren Harris and was sympathetic to the Group of Seven’s nationalist agenda, but he thought their view of the wilderness was too limited and that there were countless other ways for creating Canadian art. Both Harris and Brooker were interested in infusing spiritual values into paintings. Sponsored by Harris and Arthur Lismer in 1927, Brooker’s abstracts were given their first solo show at the Arts and Letters Club. Brooker’s radical paintings did not resonate with the viewers and was widely criticized. Until 1931, Brooker showed his art with the Group of Seven due to his compatibility with their aims.

Despite his artistic accomplishments, Brooker saw himself as a writer. However, Brooker continued to paint regularly and had an in-home studio. During the summer of 1929 Brooker met representational artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald. Inspired by FitzGerald and his own long-established passion for abstract art Brooker began expanding his style. It was at this time that he explored various genres, such as the nude and still lifes. Brooker never promoted his work to museums or dealers, and much of his work remained unsold during his lifetime.

Literature Source:
James King, “Bertram Brooker: Life & Work”, Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2018 (

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.