Celebrating Museum Month with our Painters Eleven Collection

William Ronald conceived and founded the Painters Eleven in 1953 with fellow artists Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Hortnese Gordon, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Jock Macdonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura and Walter Yarwood. The Roberts Gallery in Toronto was home to the Painters Eleven first exhibition in 1954. It was also the first major commercial abstract art exhibit in Toronto. (painterseleven.com)

It is Museum Month and we are celebrating our collection of Painters Eleven works.

The RMG proudly holds Canada’s largest collection of works by Painters Eleven, primarily as a result of significant donations to the permanent collection from Alexandra Luke. At least eleven of these works are on display at all times in our Painters Eleven gallery.

Learn more about the artists!

Jack Bush:

Jack Bush

Jack Bush

Jack Bush was born in Toronto, but studied art at the Royal Canadian Academy in Montreal. Bush drew his inspiration from Charles Comfort, a Group of Seven protégé and one of his instructors at the Ontario College of Arts. Bush painted landscapes in the Group style.

After his first trip to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1950, Bush redirected his vision and efforts to large-scale expressionist paintings. Bush found Clement Greenberg, a New York art critic, to become his mentor and encourage him to narrow his sight. Bush later simplified his compositions and abandoned his abstract expressionist style. He represented Canada in 1967 at the Sao Paulo Art Biennial, and later retired as a commercial artist in 1968.

Oscar Cahén:

Oscar Cahen

Oscar Cahen

abstract painting

Oscar Cahén (Canadian, b. Denmark, 1916 – 1956)
Small Structure, 1953/55
Oil on canvas board
Gift of Alexandra Luke, 1967

Oscar Cahén was born Copenhagen, Denmark and studied drawing, painting, design and illustration in Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia. Cahén became a professor of design, illustration and painting at the Rotter School in Prague after receiving a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Kunstakadekamie in Dresden.

In 1940, Cahén came to Canada as a war internee, the son of a German diplomat turned anti-Nazi. When he was released he moved to Toronto and met Walter Yarwood and Harold Town. Cahén aligned himself with the avante-garde art in the city and became one of Canada’s leading magazine illustrators. He started as a dark expressionist painter, but later changed his style to bright coloured abstractions.

Hortense Gordon:

Hortense Gordon

Hortense Gordon


Hortense Gordon (Canadian, 1887 -1961) Horizontals and Verticals, 1955 Oil on canvas Gift of Charlie Dobbie, 2000

Hortense Gordon
(Canadian, 1887 -1961)
Horizontals and Verticals, 1955
Oil on canvas
Gift of Charlie Dobbie, 2000

Hortense (Mattice) Gordon was born in Hamilton and studied under John Sloan Gordon at the Hamilton Art School. She later married John Gordon in 1920. Gordon taught at the Hamilton Technical School from 1916 – 1951.

Gordon was the first Canadian to study with Hans Hofmann, along with fellow members Alexandra Luke and William Ronald. She was a proponent of Hofmann’s “push and pull” theory, which shows in her geometric abstractions. Gordon began experimenting with abstractions in the 1930’s and was drawn to Piet Mondrian’s style of pure design and colour. She was inducted into the Painters Eleven by Ray Mead.

Tom Hodgson:

Tom Hodgson

Tom Hodgson


abstract painting

Tom Hodgson
(Canadian, 1924 – 2006)
Flowers, 1962
Watercolour and ink on illustration board
Gift of Alexandra Luke, 1967

Tom Hodgson was a Canadian representative at the 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne Olympics as a sprint canoer. Hodgson grew up on Toronto’s Centre Island, where he learned to paddle as a child, leading to his Olympic participation.

As well as being an international athlete, Hodgson was also a gifted artist from an early age. He studied with Arthur Lismer at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now known as the Art Gallery of Ontario), the Central Technical School and like other members of the Painters Eleven he also studied at the Ontario College of Art. Hodgson’s work was chosen for exhibition at the 1955 Pittsburgh International Exhibition. At the exhibition, Hodgson was amazed by the large size of the canvases used by other abstract painters, which paved the way for his own large-scale spontaneous gestural works.

Alexandra Luke:

Alexandra Luke

Alexandra Luke


Alexandra Luke
Watercolour and ink on paper

Alexandra Luke was born in Montreal, but moved to Oshawa in 1914. She was enrolled in the Banff School of Fine Arts, where she met Jock Macdonald in 1945.  Jock Macdonald took Luke under his wing, she also studied with American abstract artist Hans Hofmann.

Macdonald introduced Luke to Surrealism and Theosophy: a spiritual dimension that was significant to Luke’s work. Luke was instrumental in the creating the Painters Eleven by organizing the Canadian Abstract Exhibition in 1952, the first all-abstract Canada wide exhibit. Members of the future group were present at the exhibition.

Jock Macdonald:

Jock Macdonald

Jock Macdonald


Jock Macdonald
(1897 – 1960)
Polynesian Morning
Lithograph on paper
Purchased, 2009

Jock Macdonald was born in Thurso, Scotland and graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 1922. Macdonald later moved to Vancouver to teach at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts.

With traditional influences by the Group of Seven, after his move to Vancouver, Macdonald he developed a surrealist style through Grace Pailthorpe. His meeting with Pailthorpe inspired him to start making large-scaled abstractions. Macdonald started teaching at the Ontario College of Art in 1947. His position as a professor at the college gave him an influential part on fellow Painters Eleven members William Ronald and Alexandra Luke.

Ray Mead:

Ray Mead

Ray Mead

abstract painting

Ray Mead
Tide #22
Oil painting on canvas
Gift of Avrom Isaacs, 1987

Ray Mead was born in England, but was stationed in Hamilton as a part of the Royal Air Force. Eventually he immigrated to Hamilton, where he met Hortense Gordon. Mead’s connection to Gordon was strong and very influential to his work. Mead said, “she educated me more than any art school.”

Mead worked for the MacLaren Advertising Company in Toronto, now known as MacLaren McCann and Montreal as a commercial artist, but he returned to Toronto in 1987 to paint full time. Nicolas de Staël, a European abstract artist, heavily influenced Mead’s work. His personal style is often characterized by the use of rich fields of colour.

Kazuo Nakamura:



abstract painting of a lake

Kazuo Nakamura
Lake B. C.
Oil painting on canvas
Gift of Ron and Mary Tasker, 1991

Kazuo Nakamura was born in Vancouver, but was interned with his Japanese family in Hope, British Columbia during WWII. After the war, he moved to Hamilton and met Hortense Gordon for classes before enrolling at the Central Technical School in Toronto.

Nakamura uses a simpler style in his work, with less complex structures and monochromatic colours, as compared to the expressionistic work of other Painters Eleven members. Nakamura’s work is evident of his fascination with science and mathematics. His use of patterns, linear perspectives and processes. Nakamura has said, “In a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is a world we are discovering together.”

William Ronald:

William Ronald

William Ronald

abstract painting

William Ronald
Slow Movement
Casein duco graphite on masonite
Purchase, 1971

William Ronald Smith was born in Stratford, graduated from the Ontario College of Art and studied with Hans Hofmann in New York in 1952. Ronald was inspired by the abstract expressionist movement happening in New York City, and brought it back to Toronto while working at Simpson’s Company as a display artist. Ronald organized the Abstracts at Home display at Simpson’s, which initiated the Painters Eleven.

Ronald moved to New York in 1955 and secured a spot in the Kootz Gallery. His spot in the gallery got him known for his central image paintings, which are expressionist painting that have immediate impact on the viewer. Ronald is known as one of Canada’s most significant international artists of the 1950’s.

Harold Town:

Harold Town

Harold Town

Harold Town was born in Toronto and studied at Western Technical School and the Ontario College of Art. Town’s early work contained distinctly spiky forms, showing influence from Graham Sutherland and Rico Lebrun. He worked in a variety of mediums and showed off his flamboyant and productive personality in his artwork. Town worked with collages, printmaking, drawing, painting and sculpture. “Absorb experience common to all and subsume it in uncommon expression,” wrote Town about his use of everyday items in his work.

Town was a Canadian representative in two Venice Biennales along with being gifted an Honorary Doctorate from York University.

Walter Yarwood:

artist portrait

Walter Yarwood

Walter Yarwood was born in Toronto and studied commercial art at Western Technical School. Yarwood considered himself largely self-taught. He worked as a freelance artist for advertising companies where he met Oscar Cahén and Harold Town.

Yarwood’s work is known for its rich and commanding sense of colour. He gave up painting to take up sculpturing, receiving commissions including work at the University of Toronto, Winnipeg International Airport and York University. After becoming an instructor at Humber College in the 1970’s, he resumed painting in 1980.

Visit the RMG to see works by the Painters Eleven, or browse our collection online..

National Museum Month is Here

The month of May hosts the celebration of the Ontario Museum Association’s Museum Month, with International Museum Day falling on May 18. This special celebration happens every year around the world and the International Council of Museums coordinates the day. Each year is home to a theme for International Museum Day, this year is museums and cultural landscapes.

We will be celebrating International Museums Day with a special mid-day tour of the gallery with our Senior Curator, Linda Jansma. The tour will give you a look at the permanent collection and the architecture behind the building, designed by Arthur Erickson. The tour is on May 18, drop in at noon to learn more about the Gallery

Linda leads a tour

Linda Jansma leads a tour of The Other NFB at an RMG Friday

According to the OMA, Museum Month celebrates Ontario’s museums and history. The RMG will be giving you a look into the history of the building, as well as its cultural background and connection to the group of artists known as the Painters Eleven.


The Robert McLaughlin Gallery exterior. Photo by Michael Cullen

The RMG is one of Oshawa’s cultural landmarks and it stands as the largest gallery in Durham Region with 36,000 square feet of notable Arthur Erickson architecture. We feature a permanent collection of over 4,500 works and five galleries of contemporary and historical exhibitions. Among the permanent collection, the RMG has the largest holding of works by the Painters Eleven. The Thomas Bouckley Collection is an archival record of over 3,000 photos of Oshawa and Durham Region, giving a look into the local history of our community.

The RMG circa 1970's

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery circa 1970’s

The RMG was founded in 1967 when Ewart McLaughlin and his wife Margaret, also known as Alexandra Luke the painter, saw a need for a permanent space for the arts. An exhibition of local artists held by Oshawa designer William Caldwell piqued the interest of the McLaughlin’s and spawned their idea for an expanded public art gallery.

The gallery took the name of Robert after Ewart McLaughlin’s grandfather, founder of The McLaughlin Carriage Company. Isabel McLaughlin joined the gallery as a life-long patron who provided generous financial support and gifts of over 100 Canadian and international works.

General Motors Strike, 1937

General Motors Strike, 1937

The RMG is also home to a large collection of archival photos from historic Oshawa and surrounding region. We received the Thomas Bouckley Collection from Thomas Bouckley, collector and history enthusiast of Oshawa. The computerized collection has over 3,000 photographs of historic Oshawa and Durham Region for over 100 years. The collection is a remarkable resource in understanding the past and engaging with the local history surrounding Oshawa.

Painters Eleven

Douglas Coupland Group Portrait 1957, 2011

The group, now known as Painters Eleven, first met each other at an exhibition of abstract and non-objective paintings held by Simpson’s Department store in Toronto. The exhibition, Abstracts at Home, only had seven participants: Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura and William Ronald. The additional four artists: Jock Macdonald, Harold Town, Walter Yarwood and Hortense Gordon met with the former seven artists to discuss becoming a group of artists. The eleven artists came together for the first time under the name of Painters Eleven at an exhibition in February of 1954 at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto.

The RMG proudly holds Canada’s largest collection of works by Painters Eleven, primarily as a result of significant donations to the permanent collection from Alexandra Luke. At least eleven of these works are on display at all times in our Painters Eleven gallery.

Isabel McLaughlin

Isabel McLaughlin

We are also celebrating important founders and influences of the gallery this month like Isabel McLaughlin and Aleen Aked.

Isabel McLaughlin was born in Oshawa, growing up in Parkwood Estate, but later moved to Toronto. She was the third daughter of Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin, president of General Motors from 1918 to 1945. McLaughlin is considered one of Canada’s most important modernist painters.

McLaughlin had a strong background in the arts with an excellent education. She studied in Paris, at the Ontario College of Arts under Arthur Lismer, at the Arts Student’s League in Toronto, and the Scandinavian Academy in Paris. She contributed to some Group of Seven exhibits, who had a large influence on her, and she later became a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters after the Group of Seven disbanded.

Isabel has made large donations of artwork and books from her personal collection to the RMG and the RMG Library, as well as substantial monetary donations to help expand the gallery building and programs.

photo of Aleen Aked

Aleen Aked

Elizabeth Aleen Aked was an accomplished artist and had a strong sense for the history and culture in the places she lived. Throughout her life, Aked maintained a rigorous practice for painting which let her expand her reach throughout North America.

Aked’s last important art exhibition was held at the RMG in 1989. She later died in 2003, but left a generous portion of her legacy as a gift to the RMG. Aked’s legacy to the gallery, called the Aked Endowment, permits exciting initiative for education and outreach, notably the Imagination Station for children.

To learn more about the gallery, join us for a special International Museums Day tour with Senior Curator Linda Jansma on May 18 at noon.

Painters Eleven at Sixty

Tom Hodgson, Yellow Hydrant, 1953; oil, sand and acrylic ? on masonite; Gift of Martin Vagners, 1989

Tom Hodgson, Yellow Hydrant, 1953; oil, sand and acrylic ? on masonite; Gift of Martin Vagners, 1989

This post comes from our Senior Curator, Linda Jansma.

‘This exhibition is not a compact to agree, but rather the expression of a long repressed desire on the part of eleven painters to disagree harmoniously in terms visually indigenous to this age.’

While a fall 1953 meeting at Alexandra Luke’s cottage officially launched Painters Eleven as Ontario’s first abstract painting group, their inaugural exhibition took place at Roberts Gallery in Toronto from February 13 – 27, 1954. The above quote is taken from the exhibition flyer; indeed, the group wasn’t interested in presenting a manifesto similar to the Automatistes’ Refus Global, but in seeking opportunities to show their abstract work to the public.

Jock Macdonald, one of the oldest members of P11, would write in a letter to friends about that early exhibition: “It was the bombshell of the Art world in Toronto. It set the established and recognized artist on their ears.” Roberts Gallery had a huge attendance for the exhibition opening for which each member could contribute three paintings. As one Toronto Daily Star reporter noted: “The show has one common denominator: it gives conservatism a polite but firm kick in the pants and blazes independent trails.”

The RMG has organized an exhibition celebrating P11’s first sixty years and has included early work by each of its members. The gallery’s first mandate emphasized collecting and exhibiting the work of the group and the RMG now has the largest collection of work by Painter’s Eleven, as well as an extensive archive. Four paintings from that first exhibition are part of the RMG permanent collection, including Forest by Kazuo Nakamura, Yellow Hydrant by Tom Hodgson, and Tumult for a King by Harold Town (a Varsity reviewer remarked, about the latter painting, that it was “rather violent, too violent perhaps”).

Kazuo Nakamura, Forest; 1953; oil on masonite; Gift of Charles E. McFaddin, 1974

Kazuo Nakamura, Forest; 1953; oil on masonite; Gift of Charles E. McFaddin, 1974

In the invitation for the group’s second Roberts exhibition, they further clarified their aims:

‘There is no manifesto here for the times.
There is no jury but time. But now
There is little harmony in the noticeable disagreement.
But there is a profound regard
For the consequences
Of our complete freedom’

After sixty years, the jury is back, and the verdict, is no doubt, positive.

Harold Town; Tumult for a King; 1953- 54; oil and Lucite 44 on masonite; Gift of the artist's estate, 1994

Harold Town; Tumult for a King; 1953- 54; oil and Lucite 44 on masonite; Gift of the artist’s estate, 1994


The Intern Files: Celebrating Canadian Artists through Wikipedia

This post for the Intern Files is written by Madison Cawker. Madison is an intern this summer with our communications team and is a Candidate for Diploma in Arts Management at the University of Western Ontario.

Painters Eleven are a powerful force in Canadian art history on both a local and national scale. In an era of predominantly landscape art, they helped raise the profile of abstraction and inspire the next generation of modernist artists.

Their influence has directly touched the RMG through our connection with Painters Eleven (P11) member Alexandra Luke. Her significant donations have, in part, given the gallery the largest Painters Eleven collection in Canada and the ability to continue inspiring our community through art.

Alexandra Luke (Canadian, 1901 - 1967) Symphony 1957 oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. R. S. McLaughlin, 1972  This painting is very large – 246.7 x 208.3 cm or 97.126" x 82.007874"

Alexandra Luke (Canadian, 1901 – 1967)
Symphony 1957
oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. R. S. McLaughlin, 1972
This painting is very large – 246.7 x 208.3 cm or 97.126″ x 82.007874″


Painters Eleven are celebrated online through biographical websites, online collections and web encyclopedia entries. Upon examining popular resource Wikipedia, however, we noticed a gap in information. While P11 members such as Jack Bush, Jock McDonald and Kazuo Nakamura had in-depth articles written about them, the women of the group, Alexandra Luke and Hortense Gordon, did not have any published information available.

Inspired by the work of the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative and the Global Women Wikipedia Write-in (#GWWI), I sought to fix this information gap. I wanted to share the lives and works of these important Canadian women artists not only because of their impact on the RMG but also because of their important contributions to the development and reception of abstract art in Canada.

Using a variety of references from our Joan Murray Artists’ Files and the RMG research library, I researched Alexandra and Hortense then put together two Wikipedia articles that reflect the vitality and impact of their arts careers. It was a time consuming process but it was ultimately very interesting work. I also got to learn some fun facts about the women. For example, did you know Hortense Gordon had an intense sibling rivalry with her artist sister Marion?

As of early July, both articles have been published and are available to read on Wikipedia.  

Read about Alexandra Luke on Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Luke

Read about Hortense Gordon on Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hortense_Gordon

Window Wednesday March 30, 2011   Isabel McLaughlin (Canadian, 1903-2002)  Above the Rooftops n.d.  oil on canvas  Gift of the estate of Isabel McLaughlin, 2003

Isabel McLaughlin (Canadian, 1903-2002)
Above the Rooftops n.d.
oil on canvas
Gift of the estate of Isabel McLaughlin, 2003


I believe that it is important for women to be included in the narrative of Canadian art history. I have now gone on to create and edit several more articles on Wikipedia including entries for Joan Murray (art historian and former director of the RMG), Isabel McLaughlin, and the Canadian Group of Painters.  I feel proud to have helped support Canadian art history in a small way.

Archives Awareness Week 2013

The Durham Region Area Archives Group is hosting a show and tell night on Wednesday, 3 April from 6:00pm-8:00pm at the Pickering Public Library. Libraries and archives from Durham Region will display and discuss strange and interesting items from their collections to celebrate Archives Awareness Week 2013. The objects on display will include a note signed by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, magic lantern slides, Victorian era postmortem photography, a circus flea, Second World War shells from the DIL plant in Ajax, and a stunt book from a student at Ontario Ladies’ College.

Plane Crash at the Four Corners of Oshawa

Plane Crash at the Four Corners of Oshawa, 1918

The RMG’s Sonya Jones, Assistant Curator and Curator of The Thomas Bouckley Collection, and Barb Duff, Library Services Coordinator are preparing our contribution to the display. The RMG’s contribution will include various historical images of a famous plane crash at the Four Corners of Oshawa, Alexandra Luke’s and Aleen Aked’s painters boxes, Isabel McLaughlin’s Order of Canada and Order of Ontario and various other oddities from our archives!

Residents from Durham are invited to attend and bring with them interesting historical items from their personal collections. There will be a meet and greet following the presentations and refreshments will be provided.

The Durham Region Area Archives Group was formed in 2011 and is the newest chapter of the Archives Association of Ontario. Its members represent libraries, archives, and historical societies in Durham Region and surrounding areas.