November 4, 2009
Mayberry Fine Art’s discovery of prairie artist’s “King of the Castle” masterwork – its whereabouts previously unknown – proves serendipitous for public galleries in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Victoria.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba – For fine art dealer Shaun Mayberry, the excitement of discovering the whereabouts in England of a valuable, 1958, William Kurelek painting was akin to a collector of sports memorabilia unearthing a rare, trading card of a long-retired, NHL star.
When Mayberry’s Blackberry buzzed at 2:50 a.m. with an e-mail and attached image of the Kurelek piece, he immediately recognized the significance of the painting on which the owner wanted an appraisal.
Entitled “King of the Castle,” the 20” x 17” painting valued at $300,000, will be on display at Mayberry Fine Art from November 14 to 28 alongside more than 70 other collectible masterworks by over 30 of Canada’s most prominent and historically-important, 19th- and 20th-century artists. With the total value of the works on display surpassing the $2-million mark, the show is one of the most significant ever mounted by the venerable Winnipeg gallery.
“This is the kind of painting that comes along once in a blue moon. It’s a great painting by a prominent Canadian and Manitoba artist,” gallery co-owner Shaun Mayberry said of the piece which depicts Kurelek as a child, outfitted in a Maple Leaf jersey, as he and his friends play King of the Castle on a snowhill.
“It’s a playful work and the kind of Kurelek painting which is most in demand by collectors across Canada. Important, early Kurelek pieces have come to light within the last year or so. I know people in Winnipeg own early Kureleks; I just don’t know how many are out there,” Mayberry added.
Even while Mayberry was making arrangements to acquire the Kurelek work, he was unaware that the curators of a major Kurelek retrospective slated for Winnipeg, Victoria, B.C., and Hamilton, Ont., had identified this very painting as a must-find for their 2011-2012 touring exhibition.
A few blocks away at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, associate curator of historical art Andrew Kear, was about to launch a search to locate the work he coveted for the retrospective. Kear had only seen “King of the Castle” in old catalogues from art shows in England and figured to start his search there. It was pure chance that Shaun Mayberry showed Kear a photo of their recent purchase -- the elusive Kurelek painting -- when he was at Mayberry Fine Art on unrelated business.
“It’s an early work which means it’s rare to begin with and hard to track down, and the fact that it was overseas doesn’t make it any easier to find,” Kear explained.
“Fortuitous” is how he describes the coincidental arrival of “King of the Castle” in Winnipeg.
“It is a painting that immediately grabbed my attention because it combines two very significant things – the nostalgic theme from Kurelek’s youth on the prairies in Manitoba and, on the other hand, how he viewed society in general, as a kind of place of competition, of aggression,” Kear noted. “There is a moral message in a lot of his work and it is very clear in this one. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this work to the retrospective exhibition.”
Mayberry Fine Art has agreed not to sell “King of the Castle” so it can be loaned for exhibition in the year-long Kurelek retrospective – the first major show of the artist’s work in almost 30 years. The painting will be a centerpiece of the exhibition at the three public galleries.
“Commercial galleries often play a key role in finding or uncovering masterworks whose whereabouts or existence was previously unknown,” Mayberry noted.
Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Stephen Borys said, "When public arts organizations and commercial galleries come together like this, it is to the benefit of all, providing new opportunities for gallery visitors to enjoy wonderful art from both private and public collections. The WAG appreciates the Mayberrys' generosity in lending us significant works of art for exhibition."
For its exhibition this month, Mayberry Fine Art acquired works from across Canada and beyond. The Important Historical Canadian Works show and sale has become an annual event at the gallery.
Featured is a cross-section of some of Canada’s greatest artists including members of the Group of Seven, aboriginal artist Norval Morrisseau, and folk artist Maud Lewis. These artists were instrumental in shaping the visual arts scene in their time and continue to influence the art world today.
Highlights of the show include three other significant Kurelek paintings, a $300,000 Emily Carr, four A.Y. Jacksons valued from $50,000 to $150,000, and a Jean-Paul Riopelle priced at $130,000. Several paintings by other important, historical artists are valued in the $10,000 to $50,000 range, but works by major names priced under $2,000 are also included. The exhibition collection can be viewed online at www.mayberryfineart.com.
“There is a great demand for quality, historical Canadian works. In fact, demand exceeds supply even though a painting that the current owner might have paid hundreds of dollars for in the 1960s could now be worth tens of thousands. Kurelek’s work is a prime example of that,” Mayberry said.
Kurelek, the son of Ukrainian immigrant farmers, grew up during the Great Depression on farms in Alberta and near Stonewall in Manitoba. His father wanted him to be a farmer and was not pleased that son William decided to pursue his art. His father’s rejection haunted Kurelek throughout his life.
Kurelek studied briefly at art school, but preferred to teach himself through books. As an adult, he lived in Mexico and England. In England, he was hospitalized for over a year and enrolled in the hospital’s art therapy program. It was there that he drew many prairie farm scenes recalled from his youth.
“King of the Castle” was painted for the director of the hospital, possibly as a parting gift when Kurelek left England.
By the time of his death due to brain cancer, Kurelek had produced more than 2,000 paintings. In his final years, it was as if his brain was working overtime producing images to paint.
Many of Kurelek’s paintings were produced as illustrations for children’s books such as A Prairie Boy’s Winter/Summer and Lumberjack. For this work, he won several awards.
ABOUT MAYBERRY FINE ART
Mayberry Fine Art opened its main gallery in January, 2003, in a century-old-building in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District. Located at 212 McDermot Avenue, the gallery represents a select group of contemporary Canadian artists such as Winnipeg’s Wanda Koop and Andrew Valko, Surrey’s Robert Genn, Saskatchewan’s Joe Fafard, and Ottawa’s Rose-Aimee Belanger, in addition to its significant activity in the historical art market.
The Mayberry’s semi-virtual, satellite gallery, featuring touchscreen technology which provides access to some 2000 works of art, opened in Winnipeg Square in the summer of 2008.
Visit www.mayberryfineart.com to learn more about Mayberry Fine Art’s professional services and its artists.