(Toronto 1887 – Toronto 1974)
Oil on canvas
37 x 60 cm
Purchased in 1990
National Gallery of Canada, 35075
© Estate of Kathleen Munn. Photo: National Gallery of Canada
This untitled painting by Kathleen Munn is one of the first abstract works created in Canada. The boldly coloured prisms subtly evoke a landscape, and the entire painted surface comes alive in movement that suggests the force of the wind. The geometric shapes and dynamic composition reflect the influence of Cubism and Futurism. In its day, the modern style of this painting was radically out of step with the conservative Canadian art scene. Although her work attracted scant critical attention during her lifetime, Munn is now recognized as a pioneer of abstract art in Canada.
In the 1910s, Kathleen Munn studied art in Philadelphia and New York, where she discovered the European and American avant-garde movements. The painting of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Cubist sculptures inspired her formal explorations in different genres including landscape, portraiture, history painting and still life. By 1916, Munn was already producing abstract works that placed her outside the mainstream of Canadian art. She developed a close friendship with the painter Bertram Brooker, who was one of the first to recognize the value and modernity of her work.
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Bertram Brooker painted the abstract Sounds Assembling at a time when he was close friends with Kathleen Munn. The two artists shared an interest in breaking down movement and faceting forms through geometry, and they influenced each other in their exploration of abstraction. However, Brooker was much better known than Munn, having shown his work at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club in 1927. Sounds Assembling, which is said to be the first abstract work by a Canadian artist ever exhibited in Canada, contributed to Brooker’s renown as an exponent of abstraction.