Art Windsor-Essex respectfully acknowledges that we are located on Anishinaabe Territory – the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, comprised of the Ojibway, the Odawa, and the Potawatomi. Today the Anishinaabe of the Three Fires Confederacy are represented by Bkejwanong. We want to state our respect for the ancestral and ongoing authority of Walpole Island First Nation over its Territory.
The Basilian Fathers’ Portraits by Wyndham Lewis:
A 50th anniversary celebration of the University of Windsor
September 7, 2013 - September 29, 2013
Wyndham Lewis, Portrait of Archbishop Denis O’Connor, 1944, oil on canvas, 60.0 cm x 66.0 cm, Gift of Assumption University, 1996
These portraits in oil owe their existence to the brief residency in Windsor, in wartime, of Canadian-born British artist and writer Wyndham Lewis. Father Stanley Murphy of the Congregation of St. Basil (C.S.B.) invited Lewis, a noted intellectual of his day who was then resident in Toronto, to lecture at the Catholic forerunner of the University of Windsor as part of the Christian Culture Series. The series of lectures, which continues to the present, was the creation of Fr. Murphy, who during his lifetime attracted an extraordinary array of notable speakers to Windsor.
In addition to lecturing in art and philosophy in 1943 and 1944, Wyndham Lewis pursued his artwork here, including in portraiture and still life. The Basilian portraits stem from a lull in teaching opportunities and the desire of Stan Murphy and others to provide a source of income for their distinguished guest. The quality of the portraits is critically seen as uneven, perhaps partly owing to the origin of some in yearbook photographs, and even to a lack of enthusiasm by the artist for the commission.
The 1992-93 exhibition of Wyndham Lewis’s Canadian years that was developed by then Curator of Canadian Historical Art at the Art Gallery of Windsor, Catharine Mastin, now Director of the AGW, brought together the range of Lewis’s work and toured nationally.
The catalogue of the exhibition, “The Talented Intruder”: Wyndham Lewis in Canada, 1939-1945, reveals a man of big ideas: the need for a world confederation to achieve peace; the earth as “one big village” (Lewis, America and Cosmic Man, p. 16, quoted by Dr. Mastin in “The Talented Intruder”, p. 80), anticipating the “global village” of Marshall McLuhan, whom Lewis met while in Windsor; how to regain the eye of the child by “[purging] your eye of that complexity of vision which knowledge produces” (lecture on creative literature also quoted on p. 80).
Yet for all that, Wyndham Lewis left a modest but distinctive fingerprint on what he called once our “very agreeable little city, and quite charmingly arranged” (letter quoted in “The Talented Intruder”, p. 73) by painting in simple, almost childlike style a collection of Basilian priests, whose portraits are now on permanent loan to this public gallery from the institution these men, too, served in their time, Assumption University.
These portraits of eight Superiors and one other Basilian (the bearded Fr. J. J. Ferguson) spanning the years 1870-1940 are on display in honour of the 50th anniversary celebration in 2013 of the University of Windsor. With the transition from Assumption University to the University of Windsor, the transitional head of the institution, Rev. E. Carlisle LeBel, C.S.B., received the title of President, and a President of each “sister” institution continued thereafter.
Lois K. Smedick, 5 September 2013
The AGW is pleased to exhibit these works on this one-time occasion to mark the ongoing spirit of collaboration between the Gallery and the University of Windsor. We thank Dr. Smedick for her introduction in this text and for initiating this opportunity to join in an important city-wide celebration.