Oscar Cahen

Image © Copyright Cahen Archives (2015)
Growth, ca. 1954
Watercolour, ink and pastel on illustration board
Signed lower left Oscar Cahen
94 x 65.4 centimetres
37 x 26 inches

• Mac Shoub, Toronto, acquired directly from the artist in 1956.
• Russell Shoub, Toronto, by descent, until 2013.

• The Ontario Society of Artists, 82nd Annual Exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto, Feb 26th. – Mar 28th. 1954.
• Oscar Cahén, Art Gallery of Hart House, University of Toronto, Oct 18th.- Nov 1st. 1954.

• The Ontario Society of Artists, 82nd Annual Exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto,
February 26th. – March 28th. 1954, #10.
• Hart House Gallery Shows Abstract Art, Hugh Thomson, Toronto Daily Star, Oct 28th. 1954, p. 4.

 Available, price on request.

Oscar CAHÉN, biography :


Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, he studied at the Kunstakademie in Dresden (M.F.A.) also schools in Paris, Italy and Stockholm. He taught illustration and design at the Rotters Studio in Prague, Czechoslovakia (1938). His father, an outspoken opponent of the Nazis, had to flee to the United States where he tried to raise awareness of the Americans as to what was happen­ing in Europe. In 1938 Oscar and his mother, under threat of arrest, fled Czechoslovakia for England. In London, England (1938) he worked as a freelance illustrator. In 1939 he was interned as an enemy alien. In 1940 classified as an unmarried male internee, he was given the choice of remain­ing interned in the U.K. or being shipped to Canada or Australia. He chose to leave the U.K. and ended up in Montreal, whence he was taken to an internment camp near Sherbrooke. In the camp his activities as a draughts­man came to the attention of art directors in Montreal and in 1942 he was released. He did freelance work for The Montreal Standard (1941-42) and Rapid Grip & Batten, Mtl. (1943-44). He moved to Toronto in 1944; to Fogwood Farm near King, Ontario, and finally to Oakville with his wife and son. He became art director for Magazine Digest, Tor. (1944) then went back to freelance work illustrating for New Liberty, Playtime, Chatelaine and Maclean’s magazine. In an interview with Donald W. Buchanan for Canadian Art (1950), Cahén stated his preference for illustrations with atmosphere or dramatic possibilities. Occasionally he did illustrations for which texts were then written. Graham McInnes discussing the subtlety of artists in his book Canadian Art (1950) noted, “It may even be apparent in. . . the intricate and evocative spider’s web drawings of Oscar Cahén a notable illustrator of magazines and periodicals.” By 1954 Cahén had done illustrations which proved highly successful, for an Alberta Grade 11 reader published by Gage of Toronto. In his personal easel work he had abandoned his figurative style for richly coloured abstractions. In 1954 he became a founding member and an inspirational power behind Painters Eleven. The activity of Painters Eleven won recognition for non-objective painting in English Canada as did the Non-Figurative Artists’ Association of Montreal for French Canada. Paul Duval noted, “Cahén gloried in colour. With an almost unerring sense of harmony, he would merge pure reds, violent yellows, blues and black into a single picture.” On the evening of the 26 November, 1956, Cahén was less that one mile from his Elmhurst Avenue home when his sports car collided with a gravel truck and ended his life. In this tragedy, Canada lost one of its most talented artists and outstanding illustrators. In 1959 as a tribute to the artist, an exhibition of his oils, water colours, and graphics was held at the AGT (AGO) as part of the OSA annual show. Robert Fulford in 1959 mentioned Cahén’s cafeteria mural for the Imperial Oil Building on St. Clair Street, Toronto, as follows, “This work, almost his last, seems to me the best example of wall painting in Toronto. It reflects Cahén at his most characteristic, gay, robust, defiantly optimistic; a most appropriate monument.” In the editor’s confidence section of Maclean’s (1957) part of the notation was as follows, “Oscar was not only one of Canada’s best and best-known illustrators; he was a gallery painter of international renown. In his ten years of association with Maclean’s he did hundreds of covers and illustrations using half a dozen styles and tech­niques. He also painted and exhibited scores of important oils, one of which hangs in the National Gallery at Ottawa. As a member of Toronto’s newly-formed Painters Eleven, whose work recently went on exhibit in New York, he had established himself in the forefront of serious Canadian painters. His loss, therefore, is a great loss to all of Canada. And even if he hadn’t been able to paint a lick, all of those who knew and worked with him in this office would still miss him very much.” A major show of his work was held in 1963 at the Jerrold Morris Gallery. Jerrold Morris chose the work from the artist’s estate and the foreword for the catalogue was written by art critic Elizabeth Kilbourn. Other shows include: Here & Now Gallery, (Tor.); the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota (retrosp. 1968); AGO, Tor. (retrosp. 1983) and The Drabinsky Gallery, Tor. (1992). His affiliations were: ADCT (1951); CSGA (c. 1952); CSPWC (1953); Painters Eleven (1953); CGP (1955). His awards include: TDF Awd. (1953); Pur. Awd., CNE (1955); Pur. Awd., CSGA (1955) and many other medals and certificate awards. He is represented in the NGC, Ott.; AGO, Tor.; LPL & AM, Lond., Ont.; The Robt. McL. Gal., Oshawa, and in many important private collections in Canada and elsewhere. Cahén was survived by his wife and his son Michael.

NGC Info. Form dated May 2, 1947
Canadian Art, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1950, “An Illustrator Speaks His Mind” (Oscar Cahén interviewed) by Donald W. Buchanan, P.3
Canadian Art by Graham McInnes, Macmillan, Tor., 1950, P.77
Hamilton Spectator, Nov. 27, 1956 (accident, less than 1 mile from home)
Toronto Star, April 4, 1959 review article and tribute by Robert Fulford
Toronto Telegram, Dec. 7, 1963 review by Paul Duval (Duval notes Cahén’s unerring sense of harmony)
Great Canadian Painting by Elizabeth Kilbourn/Ken Lefolii, Can. Centennial Lib./Weekend Mag./M&S, Tor., 1966, P.104
AGO, the Canadian collection by Helen Pepall Bradfield, McG.-Hill, Tor., 1970, P.55-6
Four Decades, The CGP and their contemporaries, 1930-1970 by Paul Duval, Clarke Irwin, Tor., 1972, P.135, 138-9, 141-3 (ill.)
Creative Canada by McPherson Lib. Staff, U. Vic., U. Vic./UTP, Tor., 1972, P.47-8
Permanent Collection, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, by Joan Murray/Jennifer C. Watson, McL. Gal., Oshawa, Ont., 1978, P.9-10
Catalogue NGC, Can. Art, Vol. 1, A-F Eds. C.C. Hill/P.B. Landry, NGC/NMC, Ott., 1988, P.166
Exhibition folder, The Drabinsky Gallery, Tor., 1992 (3 works in colour, with biographical notes)

Colin S. MacDonald

Biography courtesy

National Gallery of Canada:


For further information on the Painters Eleven, click on the following link: www.painters-eleven.com