Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Sunset at Port Loring

Jack Bush
Sunset at Port Loring

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1934 lower right
34 x 36 ins ( 86.4 x 91.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $35,000.00$25,000.00 - $35,000.00

Price Realized $33,600.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

The Artist
Estate of Jack Bush, 1974–2014
Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
Salander O'Reilly Galleries, New York
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto
Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 2014
The Collection of Joe and Anita Robertson, Niagara–on–the–Lake
“Jack Bush: A Retrospective Exhibition”, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, 1989, no. 23
“Jack Bush: Hymn to the Sun, Early Work”, Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault St. Marie; travelling to Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax; The Art Gallery of Newfoundland, St. John’s; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Winnipeg Art Gallery; Hart House, University of Toronto; Laurentian University, Museum and Art Gallery, Sudbury; MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie and the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art, Calgary, 1 May 1977–1979
“Jack Bush: The Early Years”, Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto, 2004 20th
“Annual Sketches Exhibition”, Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 3 April –12 June 2014
Michael Burtch, “Jack Bush: Hymn to the Sun, Early Work”, Sault Ste. Marie, 1997, reproduced page 76
Garth Buchholz, ‘Retrospective educational, inspirational’, “Winnipeg Free Press” (25 July 1998), unpaginated, reproduced
“20th Annual Sketches Exhibition”, Roberts Gallery, 2014, reproduced page 8
“What Happened to the Kawigamog?” Loring Restoule, https://www.–happened–to–the–kawigamog/ [25 January 2015]
There are only nine large–scale paintings by Jack Bush that pre– date 1940. By large–scale, I mean larger than 24 x 30 inches (61 x 76.2 cm), which was relatively large considering that most of the artist’s paintings through the 1930s were painted on small panels measuring about 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm) or on sketchbook– sized paper. It was a time of economic depression and materials were costly. Before 1940, Bush painted only 15 works on canvas, out of a total of 118 paintings. To make a formal studio painting during the Great Depression was a well–thought–out decision. Only the very best compositions made it to the easel and “Sunset at Port Loring” is a prime example.

While “Sunset at Port Loring” was painted on canvas in 1934, the painting’s inspiration came earlier, in 1931, when Bush took a camping trip in the area and produced at least three paintings. The first is a watercolour, Tent – Port Loring (1931), now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. It shows the point of view of the artist looking out to the lake from inside of his personal tent. Bush would have been 22 years old at the time. He admired the Group of Seven painters, and no doubt felt a special kind of kinship by trekking out to camp and paint in his spare time. From the same trip, he painted two oil sketches on paperboard depicting a ferry at the Port Loring dock, one slightly larger than the other (9 x 10.25 in / 22.9 x 26 cm, and 8.75 x 10.75 / 22.2 x 27.3 cm). Both are titled “Ferry – Port Loring” and are nearly identical. Why he painted two sketches of the same subject is not known. It may simply be that he wanted to rework the composition to slightly different dimensions to suit the final composition which is nearly square. In any case, both sketches are darker and appear far less stylized than the 1934 fully worked up final canvas, which beams with glowing colours and an overall sense of dynamism in the perspective and framing lines of the composition; it is, after all, the edited version.

While the landscape appears idyllic in the final painting, the ferry appears to be in a somewhat dilapidated state, with a door coming off its hinges, and no signs of passengers or a captain nearby. Considering the location, in the Parry Sound District, it is possible that the boat depicted here is the Kawigamog Steamship which shuttled people who had settled in the area because of the logging industry. In the Ojibwe language, Kawigamog means “Where The Waters Turn Back,” and is the name given to a lake in the same area, east of Port Loring. The Kawigamog Steamship operated from 1913 to 1928, when it was taken out of service due to its rundown condition. Despite the ferry’s decommissioning, nearly 100 years ago now, one article published in 2015 asked “What Happened to the Kawigamog?” Bush’s painting is an interesting footnote, or proof, of a theory of the ferry’s final fate, as described in the 2015 article: “This famous steamship met its watery end, when some say it was deliberately scuttled (sank) off the dock in Port Loring. Where she lays now is a mystery.”

With this backstory in mind, Bush’s painting appears like a beautiful eulogy, honouring the many years that the Kawigamog brought people home, and together. In the golden light of dusk, “Sunset at Port Loring” captures the end of a special era in northern Ontario’s history.

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 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.

This artwork has been consigned from the Collection of Joe and Anita Robertson. The artwork from the collection (Lots 43-47 in this auction) is being offered in memory of Joe, Anita and Laura Robertson. Each work of art was carefully chosen by the Robertson family and hung in their welcoming home.

Joe and Anita Robertson were prominent Niagara Peninsula businesspeople, both born to large, closely knit families. They met as teenagers while working at a McDonald’s in Bells Corners, Nepean and married in 1986, raising three children, Taylor, Clark and Laura.

Joe and Anita were lifelong best friends and business partners. They excelled in their careers, purchasing a small dental supply company in St. Catharines, Ontario to grow it under the name of Arcona Health Incorporated. They would sell the company with Joe becoming the CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors of the parent company’s Canadian subsidiary, Henry Schein Arcona Inc.

Laura Robertson, the family’s youngest child, grew up in St. Catharines before moving to Vancouver to earn her Bachelor’s of Kinesiology from the University of British Columbia in 2017. Laura had begun working in Brock University’s Kinesiology Department as a Facilities Coordinator at the time of her passing. She was an active volunteer at Red Roof Retreat and was proud to serve Niagara-on-the-Lake as a volunteer firefighter. Laura had a lifelong passion for the arts and was a skilled illustrator and oil painter.

Joe and Anita Robertson were philanthropically active in their Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines communities, making major financial contributions to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre to build a multipurpose theatre, the Niagara Health Foundation to support the construction of the hospital and the Niagara-on-the-Lake nursery, as well as many other causes.

Besides being active volunteers, they also individually played pivotal roles supporting the St. Catharines & District United Way, the Council of Chairs of Ontario Universities, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Music Cares, Bravo Niagara and the Brock Performing Arts Centre. Joe also served on the board of Brock University for over a decade, and between 2012 and 2014 was Chair of their Board of Governors.

As such strong supporters and active participants of arts and culture, it is not surprising that the artwork they collected reflected their passion for art.

Cowley Abbott is proud to donate a portion of our commission from the sale of the family’s artwork to the United Way Niagara in memory of Joe, Anita and Laura Robertson and on behalf of their surviving children, Clark and Taylor.

Additional artwork from The Collection of Joe and Anita Robertson will be featured in a Cowley Abbott online auction, which will be open for bidding from November 28th to December 12th. We extend our thanks to Brett Sherlock Advisory for their active and important role in advising the Robertson family.

Share this item with your friends

Jack Hamilton Bush
(1909 - 1977) Painters Eleven, Canadian Group of Painters, 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.