Canadian Fine Art Auction

May 26, 2014

LOT 62

Lot 62


Lot 62 Details


oil on masonite
signed; dated 1953, 1954 and circa 1954 on three gallery labels on the reverse
36 ins x 24 ins; 91.4 cms x 61 cms

Estimate $70,000-$90,000

Realised: $118,000
Price Includes Buyer's Premium ?

Lot Report


Estate of the artist
Mrs. Cahén-Egglefield (1984)
The Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto


David Burnett, Oscar Cahén, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1983, page 32, reproduced. 

Iris Nowell, Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art, Toronto, 2010, page 148, reproduced in colour.


Canadian Group of Painters, 1954 Exhibition.
Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota Florida, n.d.
Oscar Cahén, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto December 16-February 12, 1984, other venues, cat. no. 16.
Abstract(s) at Home, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario September 21, 2007-September 21, 2008.


Cahén was one of the principal innovators of Canadian abstraction in the 1950s; Object is one of his most accomplished and favoured works. Although the artist was prolific during this period of his life, he elected to choose to represent himself three times with this work at exhibitions in important venues. Following his untimely accidental death in 1956, this work was included in both retrospective exhibitions of his work and remained a staple at subsequent exhibitions.

In the late 1940s the allover approach dominated progressive abstract painting. Personified by Pollock's drip paintings and in Canada by related works by Riopelle, Borduas and the Automatistes, advanced artists treated the entire surface of a painting in a unified, cohesive way, covering every surface with consistent, related impasto marks and painterly gestures, corner to corner. By the early 1950s this direction had run its course; art sought new solutions and options. Pollock returned to abstracted representation referencing Cubism and Surrealism. 

Cahén's training and proclivities had always headed him in the direction of narrative and figuration. As such, he never did become immersed in the allover textural treatment of the painting surface. His work of the late 1940s explored humanism through the stylistic mechanism of Expressionist tendencies. For many in this time period, including Cahén, artists yearned through their work to purge the anxieties and anguish suffered through World War II by creating dour, moody works of emotional intensity. Object turns the corner.

In the work immediately prior, Cahén created a cast of stylized characters that played out a range of emotions. Object is ostensibly an abstract formal composition. Yet, upon examination it returns to more classical figure/ground construction. Is the central form simply a mass: an “object”? Or might it be an abstracted personage, with central torso and appendages within the spirit of surrealist Max Ernst? Object is cunningly crafted. It is built in two zones, a diagonal split contrasting areas of warm and cool colouration. Cahén orchestrates the transition such that the painting holds together as a unified whole, not a painting split in two parts. Object employs what will become key signature Cahén colour treatment: striking combinations of magenta, orange, red and pink in counterpoint with vibrant cyan blues and green. Object is a confident, joyous, vibrant picture that commences the march out of the doldrums of the hangover of war and depression and heralds the embrace, vibrancy and optimism of the new age.

We thank Jeffrey Spalding for providing the essay for this lot.


For condition information please contact the specialist.

LOT 62

About Condition Ratings

  • 5 Stars: Excellent - No discernable damage, flaws or imperfections
  • 4 Stars: Very Good - Minor flaws or imperfections visible only under close inspection using specialised instruments or black light
  • 3 Stars: Good - Minor flaws visible upon inspection under standard lighting
  • 2 Stars: Fair - Exhibits flaws or damage that may draw the eye under standard lighting
  • 1 Star: Poor - Flaws or damage immediately apparent under standard lighting (examples: missing components, rips, broken glass, damaged surfaces, etc.)

Note: Condition ratings and condition details are the subjective opinions of our specialists and should be used as a guide only. Waddington’s uses due care when preparing condition details, however, our staff are not professional restorers or conservators. Condition details and reports are not warranties and each lot is sold “as is” in accordance with the buyer’s terms and conditions of sale. In all cases the prospective purchaser is responsible for inspecting the property themselves prior to placing a bid.