Thursday, 6 February 2014



It’s Olympic time again and more than ever the press is indicating that Canada has very high hopes of coming out on top in the medal count. It has been just one Olympic cycle since Canada itself hosted the Winter Games on home turf in Vancouver, and the motivation to succeed carries on with predictions for excellent placements by Canadians in many events. For obvious climactic reasons it is no wonder that winter sports are Canada’s forté. The tradition and prominence of winter sport in Canadian culture is such a mainstay that it has long since permeated into Canadian art. Winter landscapes are predominant subjects both in past and at present. However winter sports have featured throughout Canadian art history as well, particularly those that are most popular and thus the very same sports that Canadian athletes tend to excel at during the Olympic Games (such as figure skating, hockey, skiing and curling to name a few). From the 19th century to the present day sport has been abound within Canadian art.

Back in the second half of the 19th century when both the nation and winter sports as we know them were still in development, artists were already recording these activities. Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith is best known for either his mountain watercolours or figure-filled busy European street scenes; however Masters Gallery somewhat recently sold a charming very early rendering of a hockey game, circa the 1880s. This would have been painted only quite shortly after McGill students solidified something like the current game’s rules in 1875.

Group of Seven artist JEH MacDonald produced a memorable painting called Skiing in 1912, which is in the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art and depicts a skier making a proficient parallel turn through fresh snow. MacDonald has skillfully captured the sprays of powder made by the skier and the play of light and shadow across the snow is lovely. It is irresistible for me not to mention that it was at that exact time in JEH MacDonald’s career that he was interested in contemporaneous Scandinavian art and how it reflected national pride in a northernism that he felt was extremely fitting for Canada. Like Canada most Nrodic countries excel at winter sports and historically Nordic art also has a substantial presence of winter sports, especially skiing.

Before focusing back on Canada, I would briefly like to make mention of a very dynamic linocut by Swiss artist Lill Tschudi entitled Slalom depicting competitive ski racing from 1938. Tschudi was a Grosvenor School printmaker alongside Canadian Sybil Andrews. There is a general interest in the Grosvenor School of Printmaking in Canada with thanks to Sybil Andrews inclusion within this school of art. Because of the Canadian connection to the Grosvenor School and the country’s interest in winter sports Masters Gallery was pleased to find Tschudi’s Slalom a new home this year. Sybil Andrews herself created a linocut titled Skaters before she immigrated to Canada, depicting two racing speed skaters. Sports were routinely used as subjects for the Grosvenor School.

Back in Canada a few years after Tschudi created Slalom, Canada’s talented woodcut artist WJ Phillips made three colour woodblock prints featuring skiing. They are Temple Lodge and Trail from Skoki in 1943 and Ski Trail in 1945 (currently available at Masters Vancouver) They depict ski outings in the Rocky Mountains near Phillips’ home in Banff, Alberta. These have become some of his more familiar little colour woodblock prints.

Particularly in Rocky Mountain resorts such as Banff and Lake Louise, winter sport vacations became more prevalent. This is mostly thanks to the Canadian Pacific railway network and its luxury hotels. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s there was a rise in advertising posters with catchy artistic depictions of winter sports, such as the popular ski posters for Canadian Pacific by Peter Ewart (as mentioned in many previous blogs). However winter sport related advertising was not limited to the Rockies, as exemplified by Canadian Pacific’s competitor Canadian National Railways advertising skiing in the Laurentian Mountains.

The second half of the 20th century is equally rich in sportive motifs by significant Canadian artists of the time. Molly Lamb Bobak is a distinguished artist who frequently incorporated winter sports into her paintings; particularly as they fit well with her signature style of figurative masses. She is known to have painted hockey, skiing and ice skating on numerous occasions. Masters Gallery recently sold just such an example with a large oil on canvas Skaters.

William Kurelek frequently returned to the subject of children playing hockey outdoors as a great Canadian pastime. I am certain that many Canadian protégés and all-star players can recall childhood memories of their earliest encounter playing hockey outdoors. While Kurelek tended to depict children playing sports, whom may one day grow to be elite athletes, another renowned Canadian artist, Ken Danby depicted mature athletes in action. He produced a series of lithographs to coincide with the Montreal 1976 Olympics, as well as other sport related artwork that has been produced in lithography for the public to enjoy. He often produced hockey related imagery, such as Face Off. But his imagery of competitive ski racers captures the dynamism of the sport perfectly, illustrated below with an original watercolour of a racer leaving the starting gate.

Winter sports are still thriving as subjects for contemporary Canadian artists. Some of the contemporary artists active with Masters Gallery currently have winter sport themed artwork in the gallery. Realist painter Patrick Douglas Cox comes first to mind, particularly after mentioning the realist Ken Danby above. Cox has produced highly detailed paintings featuring curling and hockey; two of Canada’s most frequently won sports during the Olympics.

Quebec is typically well represented by athletes in Winter Olympic Games, where high-level sport is well supported and celebrated. Two Quebec artists who are represented at Masters Gallery habitually use popular winter sports as subject matter, such as Claude Simard with Hiver sur le Lac 2013 and Pauline Paquin with Notre Sport Préféré (the title says it all) and Le Rendez-Vous.

Lastly, sculptor Cameron Douglas was directly inspired by the Vancouver Winter Olympics to cast his bronze called Stubby. Stubby is a humorous homage to Canadian elite hockey, complete with some maple leaf coverage and a beer cap helmet.

Although landscape painting can generally be considered Canada’s most prominent theme, sport has had an ongoing presence in Canadian art throughout the centuries. This goes to show that art can be anywhere and everywhere. Good luck to all the athletes participating in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games from Masters Gallery.


Photo Credits:

1. Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith Hockey Players watercolour circa 1880s (Sold at Masters Gallery)

2. JEH MacDonald Skiing 1912 oil on canvas at McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, Ontario

3. Fritz Thaulow (Norwegian) A Winter's Day in Norway 1886 oil on canvas

4. Axel Ender (Norwegian) Ski Jump circa 1900 oil on canvas

5. Lill Tschudi (Swiss) Slalom 1938 linocut (Sold at Masters Gallery)

6. Sybil Andrews (British/ Canadian) Skaters 1953 coulour linocut (Sold at Masters)

7. WJ Phillips Temple Lodge 1943 colour woodblock print

8. WJ Phillips Trail to Skoki 1943 colour woodblock print

9. WJ Phillips Ski Trail 1945 colour woodblock print (available at Masters Gallery Vancouver contact for details)

10. Peter Ewart for Canadian Pacific Ski Canada circa 1941 poster (Sold at Masters Gallery)

11. Canadian National Railways Ski in Canada's Laurentian Mountains poster (Sold at Masters Gallery)

12. Molly Lamb Bobak Skaters oil on canvas 30 x 48 in. (Sold at Masters Gallery)

13. William Kurelek Rinkmaking illustrated in Kurelek's A Prairie Boys Winter published 1973

14. William Kurelek Hockey Hassles illustrated in Kurelek's A Prairie Boys Winter published 1973

15. Ken Danby Face Off lithograph

16. Ken Danby watercolour of a Canadian ski racer in action.

17. Patrick Douglas Cox Colour Study for on the Red Deer No. 2 egg tempera

18. Patrick Douglas Cox Final Touch egg tempera

19. Claude Simard Hiver sur le Lac 2013 acrylic on canvas

20. Pauline Paquin Notre Sport Préféré oil on canvas

21. Pauline Paquin Le Rendez-Vous oil on canvas

22. Cameron Douglas Stubby cast bronze


  1. Thank you for an interesting and informative article. I have not seen many of the images before so that was a treat.