LOT 020

1909 - 1977

acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated December 1973 and inscribed "Top" and "acrylic polymer W.B."
52 x 18 1/2 in, 132.1 x 47 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $103,250

Preview at:

Collection of the Artist
David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto
A Prominent Private Collection, Montreal

Jack Bush ushered in 1973 with a painting titled Yule and, nearly 12 months later, he closed out the same year with this jaunty painting called Christmas. Both paintings are relatively small, signaling a change of pace for the artist. The pressure of major exhibitions and the daily grind of life could be paused over the holidays. Jack Bush reveled in the freedom at this time, and it showed in his paintings.

In the months of April, July and September 1973, the artist produced the 15 paintings that comprise his London series. The style of these paintings, characterized by mottled grounds and wild yet discrete pops of colour in the form of lyrical strokes, is closely related to the Christmas canvas. The key difference is that grounds in the London series command much more attention. With Christmas, the four flat figures of colour take centre stage.

By the time Bush painted Christmas, he was executing some of the best paintings from another of his important series, the Totem paintings. Christmas is somewhat of a deconstructed Totem, liberated from the tight stacking of forms, but still intensely vertical and colourful. It is a fateful coincidence that the other Bush painting on the block this season at Heffel—Scoop Totem (lot 18) —was painted during the same week he executed Christmas; these two works are listed consecutively as numbers 71 (for Christmas) and 72 (for Scoop Totem) in the artist’s second record book of paintings.

The catalyst for Bush’s motifs and types of paintings, such as his Spasm, Sash and Handkerchief series, was often the most beautiful moments in everyday life, and especially relatable moments, such as finding joy in the bougainvillea plant in full bloom, or the burst of yellow in forsythia at the onset of spring. Sometimes the artist simply loved the colour of his wife’s dress or a friend’s coat and copied the colours in his paintings. In December 1973, Bush was looking at holiday wrapping paper. He often did not think about the utility or attractiveness of the paper but was more fascinated by the unexpected colour combinations; the same goes for his approach to painting.

Amazingly, glimpses of the artist’s strongest late works may be seen in his early figurative paintings, as if Bush were planting seeds for a freer kind of painting in his future. In a little interior cottage scene, titled Summer Cottage, Thunder Bay (1941), the window curtains and throw blanket have the same swishes of exultant colour that dance across his late abstract paintings, such as Christmas. The intimate scale of the Christmas canvas makes the association with a cozy interior scene even stronger. It is rare for Bush paintings from this period to be so perfectly modest in size. They usually command boardrooms or the largest wall in a home. Christmas could be at home in any room.

Bush’s sensitivity to the rhythms of life and the way in which colour and design can celebrate it all so beautifully has made his popularity as an artist extend into the twenty-first century. Colour, line and form are timeless elements of art, and Bush was a fluent master.

We thank Dr. Sarah Stanners, director of the Jack Bush Catalogue Raisonné, contributor to the Bush retrospective originating at the National Gallery of Canada in 2014, and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, Department of Art History, for contributing the above essay.

This work will be included in Stanners's forthcoming Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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