The art of appreciation

On Campus News, 20 September 1996

When Norman Mackenzie wrote to Walter Murray on 9 January 1914, he knew their association was based upon a shared appreciation of art. He therefore felt free to be blunt: "I am particularly fond of pictures and the pathetic attempts of travelling salesmen to inflict daubs on the respective Western towns makes me rather anxious to take advantage of anything good that comes our way, and goodness knows up to this date this part of Canada has not had much opportunity to study art or collect pictures...". Their small conspiracy to change this, and to create the opportunity to study art through a University art collection, is evident throughout their years of correspondence.

Mackenzie offered comments on paintings for Murray, words which he hoped might be "of assistance when the subject [of a purchase or commission] comes up with your Board." Together they arranged for an exhibition of Gus Kenderdine's work in Regina in 1924, by all accounts a successful event. Mackenzie in particular was taken by Kenderdine's painting, "The Spirit of Winter," which, he wrote, "took only a couple of seconds to impress its worth on me....I do not consider the painting in the light of a picture at all, but rather the portrayal of an inspiration--an absolutely original idea perfectly painted." This level of appreciation had its effect; on 18 March 1924 Murray confided "Kenderdine is very much encouraged by what you did for him. He has returned to his work with much more satisfaction than formerly."

To their credit, both men valued the work of Saskatchewan artists. On 15 February 1924, Mackenzie wrote "My hope always has been to see Saskatchewan purchasing from our local artists....When you think that in this province we have men like [Gus] Kenderdine, [James] Henderson, Payne, [Inglis] Sheldon-Williams, it seems astonishing. The works of these, along their own lines, could hang in any gallery in New York." Eleven days later he repeated this theme in another letter: "I think we should patronize Saskatchewan when we have artists here the equal of any in Canada, and I am glad to see that the feeling throughout the Province is to respect the artist, irrespective of his locality."

Almost always generous in his comments about art, some influences from eastern Canada were apparently not to Murray=s taste, and evidence of them brought forth some uncharacteristically brusque remarks. Murray and Mackenzie had a rare disagreement over two Fred Loveroff paintings. With some excitement Mackenzie wrote on 15 April 1925 of an opportunity for the University: "Colonel Perrett was good enough to have Mr. Loveroff, whose work you are acquainted with, send me a picture that I have wanted for some time. With it he sent two others, both of which are splendid samples of his work." Unfortunately, Murray did not share that view: "...the pictures came yesterday," he wrote. "I saw them. I think Loveroff has been polluted by the extreme notions of the 'Rebel Seven'. These are the least pleasing of all his pictures that I have seen. They may be good Art, but they do not give me pleasure."

The University Art Collection includes four paintings by Fred Loveroff, at least three of which were purchased by Walter Murray--before 1925. Paintings by Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, and Arthur Lismer--all members of the Group of Seven--are also part of the University's collection.

Cheryl Avery

photos: A-4969; A-4979; A-4995