1926 - 1998
The Miraculous Jungle
oil on linen
signed and on verso titled, dated 1962 and inscribed "#28" on the Confederation Centre Art Gallery exhibition label and"R-267"
80 x 60 in 203.2 x 152.4 cm
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
Sold for: $46,250
Kootz Gallery, New York
Lawrence Bernhardt, New York, acquired from the above in 1973
A gift from the above to the present Private Collection, British Columbia
Barry Callaghan, Ronald: 25 Years, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1975, listed, titled as Miraculous Jungle No. 2, unpaginated
Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ronald: 25 Years, January 16 – February 16, 1975, traveling in 1975 – 1976 to the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal; Rodman Hall Arts Centre, St. Catharines; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton; Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum, Charlottetown; Edmonton Art Gallery; Burnaby Art Gallery; and Art Gallery of Windsor
Vancouver Art Gallery, Lights Out! Canadian Painting from the 1960s, February 18 – April 29, 2012
William Ronald encouraged the Simpson’s department store to include abstract art in its furniture showrooms in 1953. His thinking was that exposure to abstract imagery in a familiar environment was the key to its acceptance. The result was Abstracts at Home, an exhibition that led directly to the founding of the Painters Eleven in 1953. Instead of following through in Canada, however, Ronald soon moved to New York, where he adopted a similar strategy. Robert Beverly Hale, the first curator of the department of contemporary American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, introduced him to fashion photographer Ingeborg de Beausacq. She acquired a work entitled Bastille (1956) for her very contemporary New York apartment, photographs of which look like a Simpson’s display on steroids.
Bastille is an example of what would become critically acclaimed as “central image” paintings. These functioned by creating what Ronald called one big “pow”—images with a strongly concentrated cluster of forms framed by a periphery treated in visually distinct ways. The motif had started to fascinate him in the second half of the 1950s, when he was inspired by Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655, collection of the Louvre) or, perhaps, variations of it by earlier expressionist Chaim Soutine, one of which hangs in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo.
De Beausacq introduced Ronald to Sam Kootz, whose gallery represented many of the more celebrated abstract artists—like Franz Kline, who practised a painterly, “hot” expressionism that was about the emotional, broad gestures involved in a painting’s creation, rather than preconceived ideas. Ronald’s work fit easily into this “hot” category. By the early 1960s, however, fashionable taste in the art market began to swing towards much “cooler” art forms, like Pop Art and what would later become known as post-painterly abstraction. For years, Kootz had been supportive of Ronald in a variety of ways, but Ronald felt in the early 1960s that the gallerist overstressed smaller, more decorative works instead of the bursts of pictorial energy on a grand scale Ronald still preferred.
The Miraculous Jungle, painted in 1962, shows Ronald just beginning to adjust his style to accommodate these shifting tastes, while still retaining his characteristic central image. In place of the heavily textured surfaces and scumbled, irregular edges of the 1950s, Ronald’s application of paint is slightly thinner, and the contours of the forms are tidier. His colour choices are still strong—the strident reds and yellows are clearly there to make a bold visual statement—but the whole is tempered by the surrounding off-white patches, which contain the boundaries of the central image and define a plane from which the coloured forms seem to recede into space. The result offers a strong central image, and I would argue that there is still a vestigial allusion to the “slaughtered ox” motif, with a black ovoid interrupting the red and white patches near the top to create two raised, red “legs.” In fact, the work is reminiscent of Soutine’s Carcass of Beef (1925) in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, especially when flipped horizontally, at which point one sees two U-shaped forms rising in the lower half of both images.
It is hard to say why the work is called The Miraculous Jungle. Ronald tended to give titles by subjective association after the fact. He had given a 1955 work of very different character the same title. That one had been purchased by Gilbert Bagnani, a classical archaeologist, and his wife Stewart, an art historian, and it was shown in an exhibition entitled Toronto Collects at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1961. Perhaps he was trying to repeat this success in 1962.
We thank Robert Belton, author of The Theatre of the Self: The Life and Art of William Ronald and Associate Professor, Art History, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus, for contributing the above essay.
1. Robert Belton, The Theatre of the Self: The Life and Art of William Ronald (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1999), 37.
2. Ibid., 44.
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
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