The Klinkhoff Legacy
A gallery founder’s sons pay homage to his memory, offering a rare, impressive look at Montreal’s past.
BY DOROTA KOZINSKA - Special to the Gazette THE GAZETTE, MONTREAL
Saturday, September 12, 1998
"Our todays and yesterdays are the blocks with which we build," the poet Longfellow wrote. For Walter Klinkhoff, founder of one of the oldest art galleries in Montreal, most of those days were spent building a business that is now woven into the history of this city. In homage to their father, who died last year at the age of 78, and in keeping with a decades-long tradition he initiated, sons Eric and Alan are presenting a non-sale exhibition of Canadian masters, and many of them are a rare treat indeed.
Like signposts on Klinkhoff’s long and rich career, the paintings selected are imbued with more than just the esteem of history. They illustrate the many fascinating relationships he established, both with important collectors and well-known artists. He was friends with Lismer and Fortin, and works by both of these wonderful painters are on display. "We wanted to focus on art that father particularly liked," Eric Klinkhoff explained. "It’s also a concise history of a certain kind of historical Canadian art. We’re going to have fun showing these paintings to people."
Although without formal art training, Viennese-born Klinkhoff had a natural feel for, and appreciation of, art, particularly figurative, and the works he collected and sold are of a distinct flavour. His fondness for Montreal and city scenes adds another dimension to the present exhibition, offering a romantic into Montreal of yesteryear. One of the earliest works, "Place Viger Square" by Marc-Aurèle Suzor Coté, dates back to 1912. It’s a magical, Impressionistic vision of misty grays and blues, a hazy city wrapped in a facing light of dusk. The translucent quality of this oil on canvas has withstood the test of time, as did the brilliant colours of an even earlier work by James W. Morrice, a 1908 painting titled "View towards levis from Quebec". "This was the kind of art that was collected by Montrealers during my dad’s career," Eric Klinkhoff said, and one has to marvel at their good taste.
The Morrice canvas is strikingly modern, the lines and colours clean and simple. A whiff of Matisse is detectable, and the two artists, who worked during the same era, knew each other well. Another turn-of-the-century Canadian impressionistic painter, and a Klinkhoff favourite, was Maurice Cullen. His magnificent 30-by-40 inch canvas, "Winter Night, Craig Street", painted in 1899, holds a prominent spot in the show. It’s a dark painting, rich in both texture and atmosphere.
History and the business of art dealership entwine in the province of an equally important painting, "La Boulangere, Baie St-Paul", by Clarence Gagnon, circa 1922. "Our parents represented the estate of Mme. Gagnon", Alan Klinkhoff explained, "and this painting has a symbolic meaning to us, a history." Sold and resold at landmark prices, and owned at one time by Robert Campeau, it links the gallery name with that of famous collectors and art auctions. Besides works that of art weighed with personal history,
Homage to Walter Klinkhoff presents paintings of the highest caliber, and this, of course, includes Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Works by A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Edwin Holgate are on loan for this show, as are those by woman painters from the Beaver Hall Group, Kathleen Morris and Anne Savage. Part of the appeal of the gallery’s annual non-sale shows has always been their educational component, delivered by Alan and Eric Klinkhoff, always eager with information and anecdotes.
A query about four miniature paintings by John Y. Johnstone elicited an instant, abridged version of the short and violent life of the rouguish, itinerant artist with a penchant for opium dens. "He died in Cuba," Eric Klinkhoff said, "apparently killed in a dual over a woman." This bastard child of an English father and French-Canadian mother was one terrific painter, and his lifestyle was instrumental to a degree in the creation of these exquisite little oils. Painted on what looks like the back of a cigar box, on average 5-by-6 inches, they attest to Johnstone’s professional training and talent. They capture small fragments of life and landscape, intense and poetic, emanating an aura much larger than their size.
The list of works in this exciting exhibition goes on and on, and also includes a somber, classical portrait by Théophile Hamel and a sun-drenched rural scene by Horatio Walker. There’s a landscape by Robert W. Pilot and a marvelous painting of Montreal by Marc-Aurèle Fortin. A fauvist, frenetic oil by David Milne, "Stream bed in Dappled Light", stands out from the somewhat subdued palettes of the other great Canadian masters.
More than 30 works make up this exhibition, and the Klinkhoffs say they could have easily shown more, had the gallery been larger. Considering the quality of the paintings, and the aim of the gallery to draw in the person from the street, this figure is perfectly adequate. Any one of these works could speak for Walter Klinkhoff’s business acumen. Together, they make the tribute much more poignant.
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