ARCA OC OSA
1927 - 1977
Madonna and Child with Flowers
gouache on paper on board, circa 1956
signed and inscribed indistinctly and on verso titled and inscribed "No.2" and "William Kurelek, 45 Kingsmead Rd London S.W.2."
18 3/4 x 23 1/2 in, 47.6 x 59.7 cm
Available for post auction sale.
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 135 Yorkville Ave
Acquired directly from the Artist by Father Thomas Lynch, England
By descent to the present Private Collection, England
Patricia Morley, Kurelek, A Biography, 1986, page 125
William Kurelek, Someone With Me: The Autobiography of William Kurelek, 1988, pages 374 - 375, drawings of Father Lynch reproduced page 379 and 428
Tobi Bruce, Mary Jo Hughes et al., William Kurelek: The Messenger, Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2011, page 50
Andrew Kear, William Kurelek: Life & Work, Art Canada Institute, 2017, page 135
Lots 217, 218 and 219 are consigned from the family of Father Thomas Lynch, who played an important role in the life and art of William Kurelek. The two met in 1956 after Kurelek had spent several years in and out of psychiatric hospitals in London and was unsatisfied with his progress. While Kurelek had been an atheist since university, following an existential crisis which was prompted by his mental illness, he began to reconsider the existence of God and by 1954 he started to pray. Kurelek recalls their meeting as follows, “as if things were working out according to a hidden plan, I met Father Lynch. I was then settled in the southern part of London, called Stratham Hill…I used to stop in at St. Simon and St. Jude, the local Catholic Church on most days to pray. Fr. Lynch was the parish priest, and after a while he noticed me as a newcomer…So the next thing I knew, we were sitting in the armchairs by the fire, and he was finding out that I was a painter and was asking my opinion of the pictures on his wall. His hobby, it was evident, was the collection of curios. He was Irish and was stout in appearance and balding, with the remains of his hair pure white…I found him very easy to get along with, so much so, that in a short time, we were pulling one another’s leg. And, he was very generous, almost too much so, with gifts and favors…Where he himself could not answer my philosophical doubts, he humbly and conscientiously proceeded to put me in touch with those who could or else hunted up the appropriate book. It seemed my prayer had been answered; this man certainly did not make me feel small and dull, and he really wanted to help me.”
Through Father Lynch, Kurelek furthered his study of Catholicism and formally converted in 1957. This would prove to be a pivotal moment in his life. In his revealing autobiography, Someone with Me, Kurelek includes two drawings of Father Lynch which illustrate important moments of transition and self-improvement in his own life. Kurelek portrays Father Lynch blessing him following instruction sessions for his conversion, and he includes a sketch of the conversion itself, performed by Father Lynch.
The importance of Father Lynch in the trajectory of Kurelek’s life is further cemented by Kurelek’s decision to portray the priest in his important work, Self Portrait, 1957. The work is considered a self-examination, which, as Mary Jo Hughes points out “succinctly depicts a shift in personal identification, marking the beginning of his new post-conversion path.” Father Lynch appears in the top left corner, above the artist’s head, next to the yellow postcard, which Hughes claims is “One of the most prominent messages about conversion, quoting an excerpt from The Confessions of St. Augustine, by St Augustin of Hippo: ‘Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you.’ ” It is not only the inclusion of Father Lynch in this work but also his position next to the meaningful postcard, which reveals the regard the artist had for the priest.
According to Andrew Kear, “In general, if a trompe-l’oeil was intended for a friend, Bill went to great pains to use objects that would have a special significance for that person. His choice of objects and his handling of them indicate a professional knowledge of the trompe-l’oeil tradition, as well as incredible technical skill.” This trompe-l’oeil includes one of Father Lynch’s personal treasures, a small statue of the Virgin Mary, which remains in the family’s collection to this day. In Patricia Morley’s discussion of this painting she notes, “The composition and colour harmonies are masterly…The Madonna sits on a narrow table by a wall. Table and wall are covered by a small piece of used decorative paper done in illusionist technique, its creases startlingly real. ‘Realism,’ however, was never the focus of the artist’s interest. The paper’s creases make two subtle cruciforms, one behind Mary aligned with her shoulder: the mother, crucified by grief.” This work demonstrates Kurelek’s keen ability to infuse his work with rich symbolism and his knowledge and reverence for Renaissance painting. The cheerful daisies in the vase have long been associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian tradition, and the cherries found in the small blue bowl are symbolic of the sweetness of paradise. In Renaissance paintings, the Christ child is often shown holding cherries.
The address inscribed on the verso of this work was Kurelek’s residence as of 1956.
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