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..

Boxing: The Sweet Science

Entering the ring at the RMG just in time for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games is an exhibit that is sure to be a knockout.

Boxing is a metaphor for life, filled with battles lost and won. In Boxing: The Sweet Science, curator Linda Jansma captures this expression through pieces that convey the movement, power and elegancy of the sport.

Oshawa named as the host of the boxing events for the Pan Am Games served as the catalyst for the exhibit based around the sport commonly referred to as The Sweet Science (a term coined by the British journalist and sportswriter Pierce Egan in the early 1800s). The city has a rich history in the sport as home to three-time Canadian featherweight champion Grant O’Reilly who operated two boxing clubs here in Oshawa. The dramatic nature of this heavy-hitting sport has ignited a passion among artists throughout history, dating back to the Mesopotamian era that includes literature, art and drama.

A knowledge as vast as the Rocky series is not need in order to appreciate the works in Boxing: The Sweet Science. The exhibit features 12 artists whose works, spanning over 100 years, align with the centralized theme of the art and spirit of boxing.

In British photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s work Boxing, open hand printed in November 1887, the physical intensity and athleticism of boxing is captured in 16 separate frames. While this piece is more of a literal interpretation of the sport, John J. A. Murphy’s Shadowboxing, 1924 adorns an abstract vision of boxing.

In addition to history works, Boxing: The Sweet Science features contemporary pieces that capture the essence of the sport.

In Stop Beating Yourself Up, Montreal-based performance artist Coral Short addresses the stigma that boxing is a man’s game. For the video, created in 2013, Short is donned in a boxer’s uniform while beating herself unconscious using “semi-believable” moves she learned while training with boxers. The graphic nature of this video is hard to watch but contains a message with a powerful punch.


Coral Short, Stop Beating Yourself Up, 2013, Video still

“I think [the work] is about learning to love ourselves more as women and queers. To bring awareness to the negative and damaging thought patterns that exist within us. Women often tend to make a sport of self-deprecation internally,” says Short. “I wanted to briefly jolt and re-hardwire our neutral pathways so they become less automatic habits. I want us all to move into a place of peace, self-acceptance and love.”

Similar to Short, Toronto photographer Pete Doherty uses boxing as a way to depict the war inside the artist. A part of the boxing scene for several decades now, the sport and its community helped lift Doherty out of years of depression. He began to photograph what he was experiencing as both the artist and the subject, giving viewers a look on the inside of boxing. The black-and-white photographs in Boxing: The Sweet Science depict a ringside and in the ring view including images of trainers and boxers alike, capturing the key moments of the sport.

Pete Doherty, The Docks Nightclub, Toronto, Ontario, Gelatin Silver Print, 2005. Photo credit: Pete Doherty.

Whether it is as an exercising method in World War I as depicted in an anonymous photograph or cubist depictions of pugilists, boxing depicts the exterior and interior battle we fight as humans.


Anonymous, Boxing competition at Shorncliffe, Brigadier-General MacDonald, D.S.O. and Lieutenant-Colonel Mayes, inspecting classes, April 1918. Photograph.


Boxing: The Sweet Science is on from May 30 to September 13 with an opening at RMG Fridays, June 5 at 7-10 pm and a Talk and Tour on Sunday, June 28 at 1-3 pm.


By Raechel Bonomo

Vol ‘n’ Tell is an ongoing series of blog posts written by RMG Volunteers. Raechel Bonomo is an art enthusiast and writer from Oshawa, Ont.


Image at top: George Bellows, American (1882-1925), The White Hope (detail), 1921, Lithograph on paper, 48.5 x 60.8 cm, Collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton; gift of Mr. and Mrs. J.A. McCuaig, 1965, Photo credit: Michael Lalich.

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 Curator’s View: Av Isaacs

This post comes from our Senior Curator, Linda Jansma.

I was going through the lobby of the gallery recently, when a gentleman in the lower Alexandra Luke Gallery caught my eye. “Hmmm, looks like Av Isaacs,” I thought. A quick step closer confirmed that Av was taking a turn around the gallery, something he does two or three times a year.

This was serendipitous. The day before, we had taken delivery of approximately 25 8” x 10” black and white photographs from Pat Feheley. She had inherited them from her father, Budd, who was a co-founder of  Park Gallery in Toronto which he opened in the 1950s on Avenue Road. The photographs were taken at an opening of work by Painters Eleven and included candid shots of Jock Macdonald, Hortense Gordon, Ray Mead, Harold Town and Tom Hodgson. But the other people in that crowded room were a mystery.

Portrait of Jack Bush at Park Gallery   1958  Photo courtesy the new studio photography

Portrait of Jack Bush at Park Gallery 1958.  Photo: The New Studio Photography

So I sat with Av for a half hour in the gallery space with that pile of photographs on my lap, one by one passing them on to Av. Av was the owner of Isaacs Gallery, a Toronto institution that he opened in 1955. He represented artists like Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland and Jack Chambers. He reminisced about living below Jock Macdonald in a duplex on 4 Maple Avenue while the latter was teaching at the Ontario College of Art, and his own father’s reaction when he sold a work by William Ronald for the princely sum of $900 (his father was incredulous). He told me of the opening of the RMG-organized exhibition of the work of William Kurelek and the impression the presence of a red-robed bishop had made on him, as well as the after-party at the home of our Director Emerita, Joan Murray, and how the majority of the guests ended up fully clothed in her swimming pool.

Tom Hodgson (left), Jock Macdonald (right)  Park Gallery opening  1958 Photo credit: The new studio photography

Tom Hodgson (left), Jock Macdonald (right) Park Gallery opening, 1958 Photo:
The New Studio Photography

Av was able to identify a number of people in those photographs which will be incredibly helpful as they’re archived into the collection. But the best part was sitting beside a Canadian legend and hearing his stories.

Thanks for dropping by Av.

Interested in learning more? Click here to read about our upcoming Michael J. Kuczer exhibition. Kuczer also lived in Toronto at 4 Maple avenue with Isaacs and Jock Macdonald.