The Canada Auction Series: Canadian Fine Art

Auction begins to close:
December 02, 2022 at 8:00 pm ET

Online Auction
LOT 559

Lot 559

William Kurelek, RCA (1927-1977), Canadian

William Kurelek, RCA (1927-1977), Canadian
Lot 559 Details
William Kurelek, RCA (1927-1977), Canadian


graphite on paper
sight 39.25 x 58.5 in — 99.7 x 148.6 cm

Estimate $20,000-$30,000

Lot Report

Additional Images
William Kurelek, RCA (1927-1977), Canadian
  • William Kurelek, RCA (1927-1977), Canadian
  • William Kurelek, RCA (1927-1977), Canadian

Isaacs Gallery, Toronto, ON;
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, ON;
Private Collection, Toronto, ON;
Private Collection, Ontario


This work is what is known as a cartoon—a full-scale preparatory drawing—the word derived from the Italian cartone, a large sheet of paper or card. A technique well in place for millennia, using a cartoon allowed artists to work out complex compositional elements on paper rather than on textured canvas. Here, Kurelek rubbed lead on the back of the paper, allowing him to then lay the sheet onto the canvas and trace the outlines on the front, leaving a precise impression onto the surface, from which he could paint with confidence. Cartoons are often discarded or damaged during the transfer process, making them exceedingly rare.

This cartoon was the foundation of Kurelek’s 1952 Zaporozhian Cossacks, now in the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Art historian Andrew Kear, writing for the Art Canada Institute, notes that this painting “is Kurelek’s earliest attempt to articulate the deep ambivalence he felt toward his father, Dmytro.” Dmytro is depicted as a fearsome Cossack leader at the centre of the composition. The Cossacks–from the Turkic kazak, or “free man”–first settled the steppes of southern Ukraine in the late 1400s, and are deeply associated with Ukrainian national identity.

Started in December 1951, Zaporozhian Cossacks was painted at Kurelek’s parents’ farm in Vinemount, Ontario, after a period spent working as a lumberjack in Northern Ontario and Quebec. The time spent in the lumber camps allowed Kurelek to save up enough money to travel to Europe, which he did in early 1952. Before departing, he presented Zaporozhian Cossacks to his father as a gift.

Kear notes the influence of Russian artist Ilya Repin’s painting Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, 1880–91 on Kurelek’s work. The latter kept a reproduction of the painting, deciding to “exaggerate the animated expressions of the figures in Repin’s original.” Other influences include muralists Diego Rivera, José Orozco and David Siqueiros, whose work Kurelek became familiar with during a period spent in Mexico. Kear also suggests that the figure in front of the Cossack leader might be a self-portrait, bearing a resemblance to the young Kurelek.


Overall good condition. Discolouration to sheet. Handling dents and creases throughout. Please note, this work has not been removed from its housing for inspection.

Please contact the specialist for further condition information.

LOT 559

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.