In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS 139 not pleased that Papineau's generosity of spiritand souland hisanglophile waysmeantlessin the future than hiscousinHenri Bourassa's narrow and evenracistattitudes. EthelChadwick wasa victim,too.Suddenlyin wartime thosewell-definedlimits that createdthe exquisitemannersand focused brillianceof Victoriantimesbrokedown.At a mid-warpartyat the Chtiteau Laurier, everythingin Ottawasociety changedutterly, Ethel'swayswere suddenlyantique,and twentieth-century vulgaritycameto Ottawasociety. Ethel never felt comfortable in 'modern times,' and the Chtiteau Laurier moment haunted her for the rest of her life. Gwynperhaps attributes toomuchof modemtimesto the war.Quebec nationalism and Bourassa werea potentforcewellbefore1914.The high diction and formalism of Victorian times were in retreat in London, and not onlyin Bloomsbury, longbeforeAugust1914.And the forces of economic and sodalchangeweredissolving the pillarsof Victorianliberalism that Talbot Papineau,Gwyn'shero, somuchadmired. Still, Gwyn,in evocative proseand withadmirable intelligence, conveys the significance of 'British Canadianism' in earlytwentieth-century Canadian lifebetterthananyoneelse hasdone.In doingso,sheremindsusof whatsomanyCanadians oncewere - and howdifferentit isfromwhattheyhavebecome. JOHN ENGLISH University of Waterloo The Logicof Ecstasy: CanadianMysticalPainting, 1920-1940. ANN DAVIS. Toronto:University ofTorontoPress 1992.Pp.xviii,218,illus.${30.00 cloth, $24.95paper Thisisabook overdue inthefield ofCanadian arthistory. Theresult ofan importantexhibition mountedbytheLondonRegional Art Gallery,it iswell researched, wellargued, andwellorganized. Exhibitions have,bydefinition, a finitelife. It is the document of the exhibition- its catalogue or, in this case, thebookarising fromtheexhibition thatbecomes thehistorical record. (The catalogue for theexhibition wasnotnearlyasextensive asthistextand was,moreover, quicklyoutof print.)'The Logicof Ecstasy' broughttogether theworkoffivefirst-generation Canadian modernists, examining thesources of their work, the context in which it was made, and the essentialsimilarities in theirsearch for a meaningful artistic expression between1920and 1940. Despitedifferences in scope,thisbookshouldbe read as a companion pieceto thecatalogue of the 1985LosAngeles CountyMuseum's impressive exhibition,'The Spiritualin Art: Abstract Painting,1890-1985,'whichdocumentedthe sources of abstract paintingin the twentiethcentury.Its catalogue ,editedbycuratorMauriceTuchman,broughttogetherthepioneering research of scholars suchasRobertWelshon Mondrian,SixtenRingborn on Kandinsky, and Linda DalrympleHendersonon Malerich on the spiritual 140 THE CANADIAN HISTORiCAL REVIEW sources of modernism. At the time, I suggested to Tuchmanthat he add CanadianartistsBertramBrookerand Jock Macdonaldto the rostrumof first-generation North Americanartistswho werestrongly influencedby a spiritual search for meaning in theirpioneering exploration of abstraction. (LawrenHarris,whohadworkedwith theNew Mexico-based Transcendental Painting Groupin thelate1930s, wastheonlyCanadian included.) Tuchman declined toexpand thebreadthof hisexhibition; planning for theexhibition waswellunderwayandit wasalreadyovercrowded. It is unfortunate that he was not more familiar with the Canadian experience , forAnnDavis's workcertainly proves histhesis. I cameawayfrom thatexhibition convinced thattherewasa Canadian counterpart exhibition to bemounted.In 1990Davisorganized thatexhibition andnow,with the publication of TheLogic ofEcstasy, wehavean accounting of a criticalperiodin Canadian art and socialhistory seen through the experienceof Lawren Harris,EmilyCarr,FredVarley,BertramBrooker, andJockMacdonald. In her introduction, Davissets out thechoices thatconfronted her.Taking her cuefrom the problems of the LosAngeles exhibition,whichby overextending itschronological rangetendedto weaken itsthesis, Davislimited hervantage pointtoCanada; thenumber ofartists whose workisfeatured to five;and the timeframeto 192040, a pivotalperiodin the aesthetic and political maturation ofCanadian art.Using theartists' work asareference point, she thoroughly examines the contextin whichthey worked,the literarysources fortheirpainting, andthespiritual agenda thatdrovethem. Shealsodiscusses Harris'snationalist agenda,manifest in hispaintings and hiswritingduringthe 1920s, andthemystical dimension of thatwork. Davisbeginsby definingher terms and by outliningthe historical antecedents for her focus on mysticism, placingher subjects in the company of artists suchasKandinsky, Kupka,Mondrian,andMalevichin their search for a 'mystical unionwith reality.'In the bodyof the text, the readeris immersed in theartists' search, throughtheirownwriting(diaries,teaching notes,and published articlesand statements), analyses of booksread or possibly read, discussion of ideasencountered, and the relevance of those ideasto the workitself.Davisfully documents the artists'sources in Blake, Blavatsky, Ouspensky, Bucke, andWhitman.The importance ofconventional Christianity, of Easternthought,of transcendentalism, and particularlyof theosophy - so importantto Harris in shapinghis artistictheory - is thoroughly analysed. Aswell,Davisexplores the criticalimportance of the landscape to thisgeneration of Canadianartists,whetherthey eventually developed anabstract styleor not. Re-examining known sources andconjecturing aboutpotential ones,Davis offersa coherent pictureof the artists' searchfor a transcendent truth that would revealthe basicordering principlesof the universe.The only dis- REVIEWS 141 tractionisthe author'soccasional needto overstate her argument.The first exampleis Davis's extraordinary claimin her introductionthat the artists discussed 'usedmystical form rather than aesthetically inventedor initiated form in theirpainting.'Davis's basic premisethat the source of muchart of the twentiethcenturyhasspecific literaryor religioussources and is not purely formalin originis no longerin question. To describe the artists' methodof workingasan either/orsituation...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 139-141
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.