Lot Sale Results

William Kurelek

William Kurelek
Fall 2015 - 1st Session Live auction

Lot # 009

William Kurelek
ARCA OC OSA 1927 - 1977 Canadian

Our Carolers in Western Canada
mixed media on board
initialed and dated 1973 and on verso titled in Cyrillic and inscribed with a dedication in Cyrillic
23 1/2 x 38 in  59.7 x 96.5cm

By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto

William Kurelek, Kurelek’s Canada, 1975, page 112

William Kurelek’s paintings of the traditional Christmas celebrations of his childhood provide a window back to his youth and to life on the Canadian prairies in a time when many immigrant communities were tightly knit groups dominated by one unifying faith. Hard-working people who often faced discrimination and hardships, they celebrated the traditions of their European past and made every effort to raise their families in a manner that carried on the teachings of their parents and grandparents.
Holidays and times of religious celebration were opportunities when these traditions could be emphasized, and the joy that came with them would reinforce their importance. In Kurelek’s life, he often commented on the changes that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was undergoing, writing in 1975, “They are caught in the midst of a cultural transition which becomes more difficult with each generation. There is often a conflict: Should religious services be conducted in English or Ukrainian? Should they be shortened from three hours to a length more in keeping with the North American patterns of worship? And so forth.”
Here, we see Ukrainian carolers on what is clearly a freezing day. Wrapped in blankets and warmly dressed, they are packed tightly into the back of a horse-drawn wagon. One child, reaching over to tuck a blanket around another caroler, holds a decoration representing the star of Bethlehem above them. Caroling was often associated with collecting donations for the poor and usually took place after Sviatey Vechir, or the Holy Supper, the Christmas Eve celebration. These carolers, shown during the daytime, might be on their way to a Christmas Day service, as we see the church in the distance up the road. Their faces tell us how much fun they are having, and their frosted breath tells us how cold it is. Kurelek recalled, “When my father sent me and my brother John to high school in Winnipeg, we also went to Ukrainian night school. In the process of retaining our heritage, we became better acquainted with the beauty of Ukrainian carols. At Christmas, in accordance with custom, we were divided into groups and sent out carolling.”
Kurelek painted several different depictions of Christmas carolers, and the subject clearly gave him joy as an adult. The perspective in the scene draws us into the work so that we feel we could be following the carolers down the snowy road, perhaps through the scenery of Kurelek’s childhood farm. Their bright clothing and the colours of the distant buildings contrast brilliantly with the snow, creating a joyful, engaging scene, which we cannot help but smile in response to. After a period of atheism and his eventual conversion from Ukrainian Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism, Kurelek often placed symbols of his faith in his works, both overt and more subtle. The row of telephone poles might represent the Cross, an image that was such a strong symbol for him that he turned the letter W of his initialed signature into a cross in most of his mature works. Yet they also might be just what they are, a row of telephone poles, connecting a community together as does the activity of caroling on a cold Christmas in a Manitoba winter. At the end of his life Kurelek understood that joy that came from faith, any faith, could be universal, and in his works that return to the happy scenes of his childhood, he has come full circle.
This work is in the original frame made by Kurelek.

Estimate: $90,000 ~ $120,000 CAD

Sold For: $383,500.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)

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