BlogApril 30, 2020

A closer look at a rare urban subject by Fred B. Taylor

In 1947, Fred Taylor was living on Oxenden, a street renamed as Aylmer, located not a great distance from Inspector St. Fred was an architect by training making it perhaps no surprise of his interest and understanding of buildings. He was also of a social and political consciousness that might easily suggest a viable interpretation that it is significant that he shows these three tiers. The first being the working citizens, the second the power and influence of the Catholic Church and then the growing and overwhelming influence of money and commerce, conceivably achieving power and influence on the people even greater than had been that exerted by the Catholic Church. 

 

Looking Up Inspector St. from St. James St. West, Montreal, is similar compositionally to a work in the medium of an etching of 1939 Looking Up St. Cecile Street. St Cecile Street, which exists today as only one block, is immediately to the west of Inspector. As with the etching, and two later versions of the etching but developed in oils, overlooking a working-class area from behind is the dome and spire of St. James Cathedral now known as Mary Queen of the World. Then, cast in shadow in the distance and towering beyond and above the spire of the cathedral is a ghost of the Sun Life building. Taylor’s palette is extremely limited in colours including various shades of red, grays, white and black with some sandy shade at the intersection of St Antoine. Inspector Street was very much the southern extension of Mansfield below St Jacques.  

 

Looking Up Inspector St. from St. James St. West vs. Looking up St. Cecile Street

 

According to his inventory, he painted this in March of 1947 and that he had gone out on the spot to begin the work, suggesting that he completed it in his studio. Except for a couple of blocks, the street was eradicated by the 720 or Bonaventure Expressway and the surrounding infrastructure for Place Bonaventure and Place Ville-Marie. Montrealers of my generation will remember Baron Sports. That building still exists, although in a different guise on Notre Dame Street West at Inspector.

Deserving of greater recognition in a broader study of Canadian urban artists, Fred Taylor is most certainly among the finest and one of particular socio-political interest.

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