Oscar Cahén

November 21 – December 16, 2023

Feheley Fine Arts and TrépanierBaer Gallery are pleased to present a new exhibition of painting and illustrative works by Oscar Cahén. The exhibition will be on view at Feheley Fine Arts from November 21 – December 16, 2023.

The life and legacy of Oscar Cahén is remarkable. A German-Jew living in Nazi-occupied Europe in the late-1930s, Cahén came to Canada as a prisoner of war and lived in a Quebec internment camp for two years. By 1944 he had moved to Toronto and went on to become one of Canada’s top illustrators and ultimately, a leading abstract painter. Cahén illustrated 37 Maclean’s magazine covers throughout his career and contributed to other publications in Canada, the United States and across Europe. He was a co-founder of Painters Eleven, the Ontario-based artist collective which helped propel abstract art to the forefront of Canada’s art scene.

Through his father Fritz Max Cahén who was a correspondent for a prominent German newspaper and art critic, Cahén developed an interest in the intertwined relationship between art and journalism, often putting social commentary at the forefront of his illustrations. Among them is the Maclean’s illustration Mr. Benturian and the Beautiful Palimpsest (1957) which accompanies an article by Donald Heiney. This piece depicts the figures of high society, art, and glamour in a whimsical style, with exaggerated proportions and exuberant colour. Like many of Cahén’s Maclean’s covers, it is a depiction of leisure using striking stylistic conventions.

Cahén was also artistically versatile and could masterfully switch his stylistic tone depending on the subject matter at hand. Some works were light and carefree and others, in contrast, explored the introspective. For example, in the painting The Adoration (1949), the traditional religious subject of baby Jesus in the arms of Mary is presented in an unconventional way. In style, the work appears to have both gothic and cubist influence and an extraordinary primary colour palette of deep blues and highlights of reds and yellows.

Figure 8.1, Untitled) is one of Cahén’s last paintings before his death. This work is an emblem of contemporary abstract expressionism. It depicts a room consisting of bold, black lines, looking out into a backdrop of vivid pinks and oranges. The work has both dark, and courageously bright qualities, exemplary to Cahén’s extraordinary and emotional use of colour.

This selection of works at Feheley Fine Arts celebrates the life and legacy of Oscar Cahén. Despite a career cut short, the works left behind tell a compelling story of an artist who despite all odds, not only found incredible success as a Canadian artist and illustrator, but developed an incredibly distinctive style that translated beautifully across the media that he worked within.

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