Artwork by Frederick Bourchier Taylor,  Pouring Manganese Bronze Parts for Anti-Aircraft Guns in the Brass Foundry, Dominion Engineering Works, Lachine PQ, November 1942

Fred Taylor
Pouring Manganese Bronze Parts for Anti-Aircraft Guns in the Brass Foundry, Dominion Engineering Works, Lachine PQ, November 1942

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1942 lower right; signed, titled, dated "November 1942" and inscribed "838 Oxenden Ave. Montreal, P.Q" on the reverse
20 x 24 in ( 50.8 x 61 cm )

Auction Estimate: $12,000.00$9,000.00 - $12,000.00

Price Realized $19,200.00
Sale date: May 21st 2024

Private Collection, Montreal
John Virtue, Fred Taylor: Brother in the Shadows, Montreal, 2008, pages 99-105.

John Virtue, author of the Fred Taylor biography, writes:

“Just four days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union [in June 1941], 150 artists, museum directors, critics, art historians and interested laymen attended the Conference of Canadian Artists at Queen’s University in Kingston. The conference was organized by Andre Bieler, resident artist at Queen’s. Among those attending were AY Jackson, Lawren Harris and Arthur Lismer of the Group of Seven, and the future official war artists Charles Comfort and Leonard Brooks. Thomas Hart Benton, a leading American artist, was invited in the belief that his dynamic personality would help create excitement at the conference. Canadian artists envied their American colleagues, who had been helped during the Depression by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). [...] There was no equivalent in Canada. So the Kingston conference was a kind of rallying call for artists to get the government involved in responsibility for the arts.

The discussion at the two-day conference centered on the role of the artist in society, a favourite subject of Fred’s, given his [Communist] political beliefs. A committee including Bieler, Jackson, and Lismer drafted a resolution. Out of this grew the Federation of Canadian Artists, which planted the seed for the Canada Council, founded in 1957, though the immediate goal of the federation was to help in the war effort. Fred served initially as chairman of the Quebec region and as national vice-president in 1944-45.

The federation prepared a petition, signed by nearly a thousand artists, urging the prime minister to make use of their services in the war effort. Fred envisioned a program under which the government would hire artists to paint in war plants. But he could not wait until such a program was approved and funded, so he immediately requested permission to go into the plants himself and do the paintings without remuneration.”

The artist began this project by painting the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Angus Shops in Montreal, with the hopes that the public would develop a better appreciation of the facility’s workers. Taylor would sketch them on the spot and then complete the final work back in his studio. Wartime Clips, a publication which the Wartime Information Board sent to plants and factories, wrote of the positive presence Taylor brought to these locations: “War workers think of him as the big friendly fellow who in between periods of furious labour with his brushes likes to talk seriously over a cigarette or a bite of lunch about themselves, their work, their opinions and their hopes”.

Here, Fred Taylor has depicted a scene inside Dominion Engineering Works in the Montreal suburb of Lachine, with dramatic billowing smoke surrounding the faces of the workers. The artist also painted Fairchild Aircraft, Dominion Bridge Company, Consumers Glass Company, Canadian Allis Chalmers, Canada Car and Foundry, Defence Industries Limited, and United Shipyards, all in the Montreal area, and Noranda Mines in Noranda, Quebec. He also worked in the Helen Mine at Wawa, Ontario. His final war plant painting was done at Consumers Glass Company in September 1945, a month after the surrender of Japan ended the war.

Taylor’s paintings in the war plants were “social realist” works glorifying the workers, a type of art encouraged by the Soviet Union. “It is unlikely that I would have done any social realist painting had I not had a social conscience and one is not born with a social conscience,” he said. “It has to be acquired”. Noreen Taylor, an artist and art teacher, who married the artist’s nephew, said his social conscience was readily apparent in his war paintings: “There’s a sense of identification with the working class. I guess he had a tremendous regard for people who struggled with modest talents and modest means. When he painted the workers, they were heroes.”

The paintings were well received. The director of Munitions and Supply’s publicity branch, Gordon C. Garbutt, told him: “Our Mr. Trudeau returned from Montreal filled with enthusiasm over the remarkably fine work you are doing in depicting various phases of Canada’s munitions production. He assured me that your paintings convey something which we have found ourselves unable to translate into words in our publicity, and it was his feeling that some plan should be worked out to show your paintings across Canada.”

Selections of Fred Taylor’s war paintings were shown at the exhibition hall of Montreal’s Windsor Station, at Aircraft Lodge 712 on Papineau Avenue, and at the welding shop of Allis Chalmers in Rockfield, Quebec. Noranda Mines put on a three-year exhibit of his paintings that it had acquired, showing them in mining towns across Canada. Taylor also attended a convention in Port Hope to address a group of workers who were being honoured for their war effort; he took a dozen of his paintings for showing. A total of 85 paintings and well over one hundred drawings and sketches of war plant production were completed. The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has more than two hundred of these works, more than from any of the official war artists who served overseas. Most of the artworks were donated by the artist himself.

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Frederick Bourchier Taylor
(1906 - 1987) RCA