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LOT 020

William Kurelek
1927 - 1977

Old Dufferin Street Market, Winnipeg
mixed media on board
initialed and dated 1975 and on verso signed and titled
20 x 22 1/2 in 50.8 x 57.2 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $120,000

Sold for: $181,250

Preview at:

Acquired directly from the Artist by the present Private Collection, Ontario

William Kurelek and Abraham Arnold, Jewish Life in Canada, 1976, page 30, the related work Morosnick’s Market, Dufferin Street, Winnipeg reproduced page 31

Old Dufferin Street Market, Winnipeg is a particularly lively painting and is closely related to Morosnick’s Market, Dufferin Street, Winnipeg, one of a 16-part series illustrating the book Jewish Life in Canada that William Kurelek and the historian Abraham Arnold created in 1976. The artist provided a commentary on each image, and for Morosnick’s Market, Dufferin Street, Winnipeg he wrote:

“Here I’ve painted the old Winnipeg Dufferin Street market, where in the twenties Jewish vegetable peddlers did a lot of trading. However, I’ve included three stock Jewish market characters from the photos of Toronto markets at the turn of the century: a shochet (‘ritual slaughterer’), the one in the white apron carrying out a bunch of chickens; the necktie peddler and the bakery delivery man…..In these markets one would often see the Chasidic Jew, who looked like a direct transfer from nineteenth century Poland with his long beard and black hat and sideburn locks.”

Part of the enduring appeal of Kurelek’s paintings is that one can easily pick out such anecdotal details and thus value both the individuality of his characters and their broad typicality.

Kurelek’s was a profoundly human approach to art, full of observation and sympathy. His life was difficult from the start. The eldest of seven children in a Ukrainian immigrant family, he grew up on farms on the Canadian Prairies during the grinding poverty of the 1930s. As an adult, he actively fashioned himself as a “suffering artist” in the image of Vincent van Gogh. A convert to Catholicism in 1957, he was intensely religious and appreciated this dedication in others. Kurelek was a keen researcher, not only of his own heritage, but also, as we see here, of other groups in Canada. Even though his individual works are characteristically dense with visual detail and life’s business, he also tended to paint – and then often publish in book form – in series that offer more of a storyline than any one image could convey. Examples include visual narratives of Ukrainian, Polish, Irish, Francophone and Inuit peoples in Canada.

That said, Old Dufferin Street Market, Winnipeg captures a world complete in itself. The cacophony of activities outside Morosnick’s shop (identified on the green facade of the building with the red and white striped awning) could defeat our comprehension were it not for Kurelek’s careful construction of an armature, even an architecture, of framing devices inside the perimeters of the painting. The multicoloured carts that merchants use to deliver and to sell their wares function pictorially as rectangular holders and dividers for the ever-busy market-goers. The unexpected white umbrellas punctuate and rationalize the scene, as does his systematic linking of colours across the surface. As if to hold all this activity even more securely together, Kurelek included a vibrant orange border just inside his wooden frame, a bold gesture that links orange highlights seen across the painting, including the shirts of the two men in the foreground. Kurelek made his own frames – including this one – and was much sought after as a frame maker in Toronto. His dedication to his craft underscores that of the merchants he depicts.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Remembering Postmodernism: Trends in Recent Canadian Art, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $100,000 - $120,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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