Remembering Walter Klinkhoff (1919-1997)
Returning from a brief vacation, I was saddened to learn of the death of Walter Klinkhoff, the founder of the prestigious art gallery, bearing his name, on Sherbrooke near Drummond.
Mr. Klinkhoff, a long-time resident of Hampstead, originally an engineer, started selling art in 1949, from a second floor duplex on Van Horne. Mr. Klinkhoff then moved to Union Ave. before settling in 1960 at his present location. At that time he was selling canvases by A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Edwin Holgate and Clarence Gagnon for about $200. He admired the work of Sam Borenstein, who he considered largely underrated.
A competitor of his once remarked to me, "Walter knows who owns every important painting in Canada. He knows what he can buy them for and what he can sell them for." I met Mr. Klinkhoff in 1980, after I started frequenting the gallery. I had still not made a purchase, but I had established a pleasant relationship with his two sons, Eric and Alan. Mr. Klinkhoff approached me and, astute businessman and super salesman that he was, said: "Sir, I noticed you in our gallery quite a few times, but I do not see your name on our books!" I explained that I would like to own a John Little (they were in great demand), but none had been offered. A week later, amazingly, one became available and I immediately bought it! I have remained a client of the gallery and even though Mr. Klinkhoff dealt with members of Canada's richest and most powerful elite, he still found time for me and my modest collection.
Walter Klinkhoff played a significant role in influencing collectors and bringing new artists to the marketplace. When I started writing an art column, Mr. Klinkhoff was an enthusiastic supporter. He himself would often write letters to editors across the country, clarifying items that they published. He directed criticism to our cultural Properties Act: "People don't like bureaucratic controls over their personal property and they don't like to have to depend on the whims of examiners and civil servants if they want to dispose of something." I am writing this on the day when Christie's in New York had the record sale of $206 million U.S. for the Ganz art collection. Mr. Klinkhoff and I would always enjoy dissecting these sales. He was always visible at the auctions with his wife Gertrude, who was a partner in the gallery's operation. "No-one could have had more help and support than I had from my wife." They were married in 1948.
"Novices are no match at auctions against an experienced dealer. Let a dealer do the bidding for you. Pay him a small commission and you will come out way ahead," revealed Mr. Klinkhoff. In 1993, Mr. Klinkhoff published a personal volume, Reminiscences of an Art Dealer, in which he put his thoughts down on paper while his memory still remained vivid. In it he commented, "I have enjoyed my work enormously, relations with artists as well as with the clients. I could not think of a nicer profession if one has the talent for it and I am extremely pleased that my sons are following in my footsteps."
Art was not all I talked about with Mr. Klinkhoff. Born in Vienna, he always had a yearning for European food. For him, boiled beef at Moishe's was a special treat. On a visit to Miami he was surprised he couldn't get good boiled flanken. I suggested next time he try the Rascal House. I never found out if he ever got there. Canadian art has lost its foremost dealer. I certainly am going to miss him.
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