Molly Lamb Bobak
Recalling 40 Years of Molly Lamb Bobak and the Klinkhoff Family
Molly Lamb Bobak enjoyed a lengthy career during which she became one of the most celebrated artists of her generation. Representing her for more than 40 years at our family’s old Montreal gallery, Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, gave us the luxury to know her and to distribute her artwork to art collectors from coast to coast. On more than one occasion she did some drawings from the front steps of the gallery. Most memorable was the coincidence of her visit with us, a November 11, Remembrance Day, when the Montreal parade did a bypass and salute directly across the street from the Gallery at the United Services Club. The Royal Highland Regiment and their bagpipes, R.C.M.P. on horseback, the famed Van Doos (The Royal 22nd Regiment) plus navy cadets and aging veterans...this was irresistible inspiration for Canada’s first female official war artist to capture in paint.
Her background, credentials and honours have been well documented recently by the Art Canada Institute (see https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/molly-lamb-bobak/). In 1993, The McKenzie Art Gallery in Regina put together an outstanding retrospective of her work and well illustrated catalogue.
Molly Lamb Bobak was an artistically intelligent painter. She had the same familiarity with the colour theories expounded most notably by Hans Hoffmann as did Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, Jack Bush and William Perehudoff. With an understanding and respect of contemporary art theories, like Dorothy Knowles, Joe Plaskett and Takao Tanabe, Molly’s painterly path led to resolve compositions that one would describe as figurative. She acknowledges some of her important influences include Sam Francis, Jack Shadbolt and David Milne. (See her interview with Ian G. Lumsden in the catalogue, The Queen Comes To New Brunswick: Paintings and Drawings by Molly Lamb Bobak, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.)
For those of us who knew her, Molly’s paintings and watercolours take on an added dimension. Be it paintings of crowds or more sensitive renderings in watercolour of flowers, they are reflective of a person who was encouraging of others, positive in her thoughts and generous in her deeds. Molly’s acts of generosity are legendary and plentiful. If one extended a kindness to Molly, it was not uncommon that she would reciprocate with a small oil painting, one that at the time was worth $1,000 and today conceivably $15,000 or more.
As a brief anecdote, Mila Mulroney, who we had the pleasure of an acquaintance with since our teenage years at Montreal’s Mount Royal Tennis Club, met Molly through our Walter Klinkhoff Gallery. As Canada’s First Lady Mila occasionally invited Molly to participate in official functions where a welcome presence was a truly distinguished artist, an accomplished Canadian, an Official War Artist, and a respectful human being. We recall Molly’s recounting of Mila’s tea with U.S. First Lady, Mrs. Barbara Bush. Others within Mr. and Mrs. Mulroney’s circle had the good fortune of meeting Molly. One day a couple came into Walter Klinkhoff Gallery and said that they had been to a dinner hosted in Ottawa by then Minister of Finance, Michael Wilson, and had enjoyed conversation with Molly Bobak who had been a companion at their table. Molly so impressed them that they wanted to buy one of her paintings. Almost incidentally, one of them asked; “What does she paint?”.
Molly was invited to participate in a number of events when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll was in Fredericton for a few days in 1976, a stopover en route to Canada's Olympic Games held in Montreal and in which Princess Anne was a competitor in a few equestrian events. The result was an excellent exhibition, The Queen Comes To New Brunswick: Paintings and Drawings by Molly Lamb Bobak, a presentation which was shown at five public galleries. I think that Molly had promised us some 15 works that were included in that show. As it moved from one venue, admirers of her work asked Molly if they could purchase one. By the time the tour finished we were left with few if any at all. Characteristically Molly, she generously supplied us with a number of very fine paintings that she had been working on.
Walking about Fredericton’s Saturday market place with Molly, all the merchants acknowledged Molly with a welcoming wave. Characteristically, Molly would reciprocate, addressing many as “Dearie”. New Brunswick’s Harrison and Marion (“Billie'') McCain family were enthusiastic sponsors of Molly. We think that it is accurate to say that Mrs. McCain was a particularly strong advocate of the fine arts in New Brunswick and throughout the Maritimes.
In brief, Molly was born near Vancouver, British Columbia on February 25, 1920, the daughter of an influential art critic Harold Mortimer Lamb. In 1942 she joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps (C.W.A.C.) where she gained the rank of lieutenant. With the political intervention of A.Y. Jackson she was the first woman appointed an Official War Artist with the Canadian Army. She went overseas in 1945. In 1945 she married Bruno Bobak, himself an outstanding artist and an Official War Artist for Canada in World War ll.
From the late 1940s, B.C. was their home, first Galiano Island and then Vancouver proper where Molly taught at the Vancouver School of Art. After a year in Europe in 1960-61 on a Canada Council Fellowship, and when Goodridge Roberts was leaving his position as Artist in Residence at University of New Brunswick, Bruno Bobak was offered and accepted the position. The couple moved to Fredeircton, which became their permanent home. Molly taught a large number of workshops around the country and regularly visited their daughter, Annie, who lived out on Galiano Island. Molly Lamb Bobak was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University, followed by an Honorary Doctorate of Law from University of New Brunswick, and was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada and Order of New Brunswick
On March 2nd, 2014 Canada lost a truly great artist, a great Canadian and a wonderful human being.