Teaching takes precedence over selling at Klinkhoff show

ANN DUNCAN
The Gazette, Montreal
September 18, 1993 – p. J5

Every September for the past two decades or so, Galerie Walter Klinkhoff does something unheard of in the world of commercial galleries: it puts on a museum-quality exhibition in which absolutely nothing is for sale.

The idea behind these retrospective exhibitions is to take a look at a Quebec artist who has either slipped from public view or to pay tribute to an artist who never received the recognition that he or she should have received in the first place.

Through these exhibitions, the Klinkhoffs have spearheaded a resurgence of interest in the woman artists of the Beaver Hall Hill Group with retrospectives of the work of Anne Savage, Prudence Heward, Sarah Robertson, Ethel Seath and Mabel Lockerby. Dennis Reid once wrote in his Concise History of Canadian Painting that “as a group they were probably the finest figure painters in Canada.” Yet, many of those artists had never been given their due until the Klinkhoff shows.

This year, the Klinkhoffs have concentrated their attention on Mascouche-born painter Georges Delfosse (1869-1939).

Brothers Alan and Eric Klinkhoff, who are directors of the gallery and put the exhibition together, readily acknowledged that Delfosse was not a master on par with a landmark artist such as Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté.

“Suzor-Cote was really one of the greats,” Eric said. “Delfosse wasn’t.”

But the French-trained Delfosse was clearly a skilled craftsman, who could produce utterly charming paintings when he was at his best.

“He was a highly, highly competent painter of the day, but not a risk-taking artist,” Alan Klinkhoff said during an interview this week.

Because he was so predictable and reliable, Delfosse received hundreds of commissions to decorate churches throughout North America and to paint the portraits of the rich and powerful. In 1897, he even was honored with the commission of painting the portrait of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

Another aspect of Delfosse’s legacy was his paintings of historic Montreal, both real and slightly fanciful. And it is these paintings that make up a large part of the Klinkhoff exhibition.

A stunning painting, borrowed from the Power Corp. collection, shows a building that housed Montreal’s first private school, with Notre Dame Basilica tucked into the right-hand corner. Other paintings are of Place Jacques Cartier and the Chateau Ramezay.

And about half the exhibition of about two dozen paintings was borrowed from the city’s large collection of Delfosses. The last time these paintings were displayed in public was in 1983 when city hall organized a phenomenally popular Delfosse retrospective. About 70,000 people took in that show and some 50,000 copies of the exhibition’s color catalogue were sold, Eric Klinkhoff said. “It was a blockbuster success.”

Why do the Klinkhoffs go to such trouble and expense with these shows, which take hundreds of hours to organize and from which no money can be made? Largely for educational reasons, Eric said. “It’s part of our role.”

These exhibitions are the sort that public institutions could and should do, but often don’t, he said. Indeed, they often have been used as the seeds for later museum shows, and they attract an ever- broadening public into the gallery.

Art history students at CEGEPs and universities, as well as seniors’ groups interested in art, have come to expect these historical shows and use them as part of their studies, the Klinkhoff brothers said.

Oddly enough, the francophone media have not twigged to their importance, even though such major francophone artists as Suzor- Cote and Adrien Hebert have been featured. Strange behavior, indeed, from a province that loves to lionize every possible cultural hero.

* The Georges Delfosse retrospective continues at the Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, 1200 Sherbrooke St. W., through Sept. 25. Hours: Monday to Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 9:30 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Copyright © The Gazette, Montreal

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