Harold Barling Town
CGP CPE CSGA OC OSA P11 RCA
1924 - 1990
Venice from a Postcard
oil and Lucite 44 on board
signed and dated 1957 and on verso titled on the exhibition labels
48 x 42 po 121.9 x 106.7 cm
Estimation : $20,000 - $30,000
Vendu pour : $67,250
Exposition à : Heffel Toronto – 13 avenue Hazelton
Collection of William and Elizabeth Kilbourn, Toronto
Rodolphe de Repentigny, Galerie L'Actuelle exhibition review, La Presse, March 1957
The Park Gallery, Toronto, Painters Eleven with Ten Distinguished Artists from Quebec, October 31 – November 15, 1958
Stratford Festival Art Exhibition, Ten Canadians, 1959
An artist who acquires an extraordinarily varied skill is not particularly rare. That he knows what to do with it is much rarer. Harold Town, a painter from Toronto, is one of these artists who, in Canada, can be counted on one’s fingers.
Those words were written by the revered Quebec art critic and theoretician Rodolphe de Repentigny (also an artist under the pseudonym Jauran) in his review for La Presse of an exhibition of Town’s single autographic prints at Guido Molinari’s Galerie L’Actuelle in March 1957. If one’s exposure to Town’s work has chiefly been through his powerful paintings and collages, it may be surprising to learn that it was his inventive monotypes—those single autographic prints which he produced in great numbers between 1953 and 1959—that had brought him a whirlwind of attention in his earlier years.
Very soon after seeing them, Douglas Duncan’s Picture Loan Society in 1954 made them the focus of Town’s first solo exhibition, and they were the first of his works to be acquired by public institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. The icing on the cake was Town’s selection as one of the three artists chosen to represent Canada at the 1956 Venice Biennale: the National Gallery chose paintings by Jack Shadbolt, sculpture by Louis Archambault and single autographic prints by their younger peer, Town, then only 31 years old. The “extraordinarily varied skill” Repentigny referred to suggests that the critic was well aware of Town’s multiple talents as a graphic artist and painter even though Town’s work, seen most often in group exhibitions, was not well known beyond Ontario at that time.
It should not be forgotten that Town was an erudite, witty and elegant writer, which is evident in the titles he gave to his works in all media. One may speculate that our Venice from a Postcard may indeed have been inspired by his attendance at the 1956 Biennale. Alternatively, Town not being one to seek comparison with the multitude of artists who had sketched and painted that iconic site in the past, the title may very well be just that, his interpretation of a picture postcard that one might find anywhere. While the work could be a baffling image at first glance, a longer gaze conjures the blue of the Grand Canal as backdrop to a confluence of architectural elements—columns, steps, domes—creating a beautiful and tempting abstract map of the magical city of Venice.
Now, more than six decades later, it remains difficult to fairly describe the body of work produced by Town or to portray his persona without employing superlatives. Whether or not one’s opinion is essentially positive, the adjectives that come to mind are words like prodigious, wide-ranging, prolific, outstanding, challenging, astonishing, and sometimes cantankerous, difficult and opinionated. His contemporaries, both within and outside the art world, could be fiercely loyal to him or recovering from a recent insult. (This writer was witness to both extremes.)
Fortunately for us, the relationship between Town and the Kilbourn family was unfaltering. William Kilbourn and Town were particularly close friends. The Kilbourn home was not far from the Studio Building on Severn Street where Town had one of his studios. That studio was packed with found objects, gathered for future inclusion in his monumental collages, and it was not unusual for Bill to accompany Harold on his scavenging expeditions in the woods along the Rosedale Valley Road. After Town’s passing in 1990, it was Kilbourn, with the advantage of his experience as a city councillor, who convinced the Toronto Historical Board to honour the artist’s memory at a small park in their shared neighbourhood, near the intersection of Church and Yonge Streets.
Estimation : $20,000 - $30,000
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