PHILIP HENRY HOWARD SURREY, R.C.A.
Estate of the artist
Private Collection, Montreal
Anne Whitelaw, Brian Foss and Sandra Paikowksy, (eds.) The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press, Canada, 2010, page 131.
T.F. Rigelhof, Philip Surrey, Girl on a Gallery, 1966, 2016.
Philip Surrey (1910-1990) Retrospective Exhibition, Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., September 2004, Montreal, no. 71.
Montreal artist Philip Surrey (1910-1990) is known foremost as a painter of urban scenes and typically his city is shown in use by its citizens who occupy places where people naturally gather. Sandra Paikowsky calls them “social places,” like Place Ville Marie or Green Avenue. Paikowsky remarks that in the work of painters like Surrey images of their hometown can be considered symbolic of their own biographies.
Indeed, the notion of biography is very much present in this painting. Surrey taught at Sir George Williams (now Concordia). Part of the course of study included “what students might see if they looked into their gardens/back yards.” Girl on a Gallery is set on the balcony of Surrey’s Grosvenor Avenue home in Westmount, one of Montreal’s toniest neighbourhoods. There has been some well-founded conjecture about who the subject is (a close friend of the artist) and her story (a dramatic breakup and new affair), the repercussions of which she is now contemplating, possibly even regretting. The composition is intriguingly ambiguous about this - or simply discreet, the result of Surrey not wanting to cast judgment. The girl seems to shy away from the light source as though fearful of being exposed further. And are the tree branches embracing the girl, or does their reach imply a more ominous intention? The answer may be subject to our own predispositions about such affairs of the heart.
Surrey was a meticulous technician and would have prepared many sketches before rendering this large oil painting. One of these, a 12 x 18 inch ink and charcoal drawing is in the collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery.