Canadian Artists on the World Stage

In the past, I’ve written a lot about the Group of Seven, and other Canadian artists. Today, I’m going to write about the two artists with the most success on the world stage.


ABOVE: James Wilson Morrice, La vielle maison Holton à Montréal, between 1908 and 1909, oil on canvas, 23.8 x 28.8 inches

BELOW: Jean-Paul Riopelle, Homage to Grey Owl, 1970, oil on canvas, 117.9 x 157.5 inches

James Wilson Morrice

James Wilson Morrice was born in Montreal on August 10, 1865. After studying law in Toronto, he moved to England to study painting, then to Paris where he stayed until the First World War – during this time, he spent many of his winters back home in Canada. He fled Europe when war broke out, and eventually settled in Tunis. He died there (from alcoholism) at the age of 58.

Influenced first by Whistler, and then by Van Gogh, he is most known for Canadian Winter scenes, done in an impressionist style. Although not as well known in Canada as members of the Group of Seven, James Wilson Morrice, was the first Canadian artist to achieve international acclaim.

Jean-Paul Riopelle

Jean-Paul Riopelle, was born in Montreal on October 7, 1923. After completing his studies in Quebec, he moved to Paris in 1947, where he met, and entered into a relationship with fellow artist Joan Mitchell. The two influenced each other greatly, but after twenty years, they decided to call it quits. After many years abroad, Riopelle eventually returned to Canada, and passed away in Quebec at the age of 78.

While his earlier work could be surrealist, he is best known for his abstract expressionist pieces. Jean-Paul Riopelle is arguably the most successful Canadian artist of the 20th century, and to this day the most successful internationally.


My Favorite Artworks in the AGO

While it can’t compete with the likes of MOMA or Tate Modern, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has plenty to offer. Here are ten of my favorite pieces – in no particular order.


ABOVE: Chuck Close, Kent, 1970-71, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 90 inches, Art Gallery of Ontario, Photo: © Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto [2014]

From Henry Moore to the Group of Seven, the AGO has more than enough to make a top ten list a daunting task. After much deliberation, here is mine:

Christi Belcourt, The Wisdom of the Universe

Beautiful and intricate. Belcourt is a skilled artist working in a post skill art world. No blank canvases here.

Evan Penny, Stretch #1

This thing is just plain cool. Basically, it’s Chuck Close on acid – not that I’d have any idea what that’d look like.

Jean-Paul Riopelle, Chevreuse II

Canada’s answer to Jackson Pollock – minus the alcoholism and spousal abuse – Riopelle’s Chevreuse II is a chaotic tour de force.

Kent Monkman, The Academy

Smart, vibrant…and big; new school meets old school in one of the AGO’s finest contemporary pieces.

Simon Starling, Infestation Piece (Musseled Moore)

Recreate a Moore, dump it in Lake Ontario, pull it up a year later, then put it on display covered in zebra mussels. Sterling gets an A for originality alone.

David Altmejd, The Index

Altmejd killed it in Venice with this sculpture. My girlfriend doesn’t like it very much; I love it very much.

Otto Dix, Portrait of Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann

Creepy as shit; Dix’s portrait shrinks the shrink. A weird painting by a seriously weird dude.

Chuck Close, Kent

Photorealism often gets a bad rep. That said, Chuck Close is the shit. Period. Full stop.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents

Brighten your day with this wonderful depiction of slaughtered babies. When put like that, it doesn’t sound like much of a draw, but trust me, it is.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Crucified Christ (corpus)

Of all the AGO’s crucifixes – and there are a lot of them – Bernini’s is arguably the best. No small feat.