Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Still Life with Top Hat, Stone Fragment, Glass Ball and Tumbler, 1931
Thumbnail of Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Still Life with Top Hat, Stone Fragment, Glass Ball and Tumbler, 1931 Thumbnail of Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Still Life with Top Hat, Stone Fragment, Glass Ball and Tumbler, 1931 Thumbnail of Artwork by Bertram Richard Brooker,  Still Life with Top Hat, Stone Fragment, Glass Ball and Tumbler, 1931

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

Lot #114

Bertram Brooker
Still Life with Top Hat, Stone Fragment, Glass Ball and Tumbler, 1931

oil on board
inscribed “Return to 107 Glenview Ave., Toronto” on the reverse
15.75 x 19.75 in ( 40 x 50.2 cm )

Auction Estimate: $15,000.00$10,000.00 - $15,000.00

Provenance:
Gift of Robert and Margaret Hucal, Winnipeg, 2000
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery
Exhibited:
"Sounds Assembling: Bertram Brooker in Winnipeg Collections", Winnipeg Art Gallery, 3 October 1999-30 January 2000
Possibly "The View From Here: Selections from the Canadian Historical Collection", Winnipeg Art Gallery, 28 May-31 December 2000
"Focus on Paintings", Winnipeg Art Gallery, 24 January-9 March 2003
Bertram Brooker established his artistic credentials with a landmark exhibition of abstract paintings at the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto in 1927. Although the initial response of his peers was negative, the ensuing notoriety launched his artistic career and eventually catapulted him to fame as the first artist in Canada to hold a solo show devoted exclusively to abstraction. After meeting Winnipeg artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald during the summer of 1929, Brooker shifted to more representational images in the thirties. From that point on, Brooker toggled between abstraction and figuration, sometimes combining both approaches in a single picture.

In October 1930, FitzGerald sent Brooker the painting "Still Life", 1925 (Private Collection), which he would later purchase. This picture, a constant source of joy for Brooker, included a classical Roman statue (likely a plaster reproduction after the "Farnese Hercules") and was perhaps painted at the Winnipeg School of Art where plaster casts were readily available for FitzGerald’s students to copy. The picture may have been a demonstration piece for the students since FitzGerald taught courses on both the Antique and Still Life as part of the general plan of instruction.

With FitzGerald’s "Still Life" hanging in his living room, Brooker painted "Still Life with Top Hat, Stone Fragment, Glass Ball, and Tumbler", 1931. Against a curtained backdrop and upward tilted foreground à la Paul Cézanne, Brooker organized a group of objects representing
a basic vocabulary of geometric forms that recall Cézanne’s famous dictum to see nature reduced to the essentials of “cylinder, sphere and cone.” Like FitzGerald, Brooker introduces a historical element with a plaster fragment most likely depicting a detail of the right eye from Michelangelo’s marble sculpture "David" (Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence). In addition to recreating this surface in paint, Brooker demonstrated his technical versatility by painting a silk hat, glass globe, and metal cup. As the thirties progressed, Brooker would turn continuously to Cézanne as a source of inspiration for the underlying structure and surface treatment of still life compositions.

Michael Parke-Taylor, Canadian art historian, curator and author of "Bertram Brooker: When We Awake!" (McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2024) and editor of "Some Magnetic Force: Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald Writings" (Concordia University Press, 2023).

This artwork is being sold to benefit the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq in establishing an endowment fund to support more diverse representation in the permanent collection, beginning with contemporary Canadian art. Cowley Abbott is pleased to donate our selling commission to the fund as part of the sale.
For additional images and/or details related to this artwork, please visit the digital catalogue: https://rb.gy/guln5m
Sale Date: May 30th 2024

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703


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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 (https://aci-iac.ca/art-books/bertram-brooker)

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