Hortense Gordon (1887-1961)
"Derelict No. III" 1957
Oil on Canvas
19" x 13" Image
28" x 22.5" Frame
Signed Front Right Hortense M. Gordon 57
Exhibition tag from the Art Gallery of Hamilton Verso with other notes and paint markings
Provenance: Exhibited at the Art Gallery of Hamilton with the Women's Arts Association, 1957; Private Hamilton Collection
Born in Hamilton, she showed talent at an early age. Her father, a newspaper man, gave her four sheets of copy paper daily and told her to fill them with sketches. At the age of eight, she attended Saturday morning classes and by the time she was 16 she had decided to become an artist. She went to Chatham, Ontario, where she set up a studio and taught art, and also instructed pupils at a local high school (part time). She entered a landscape painting in a Royal Canadian Academy show (a scene she had done outside Chatham) and it was accepted for showing. It was seen by John S. Gordon, Head, Art Department at the Hamilton Technical Institute. He was so impressed with the work that he found out more about the artist (that she was also a teacher). When a vacancy occurred for an art teacher at the Institute in 1916 she was hired.
Four years later, she and John S. Gordon were married. During their summers they went to Europe, Paris being a favourite destination. There the avant-garde movements caught the imagination of Hortense Gordon and she began to experiment. She worked in the impressionistic style for a few years and later, when the Group of Seven began to exhibit their work, she was influenced considerably by them. Her husband was also interested in the work of modern artists and he collected reproductions of their paintings which he used in his lectures and for his own reference and enjoyment. In his own painting he kept to the realistic and impressionistic styles. They both studied Flemish “old masters” in Holland and visited 14 galleries in The Hague. On their visits to London they would sees a favourite Rembrandt at the National Gallery and ask for chair to sit before it in contemplation. Her husband has a studio in Paris at first, then at Hamilton, Ontario and at Etaples, France. They made 15 trips to Europe.
When her husband retired from the art department at the Hamilton Technical Institute in 1934, Hortense became its new head. After six years of ill health, John Gordon died in 1940. Hortense Gordon did her first abstracts in the 1930s but after a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, she became wholly immersed in this form of expression. In 1946 she opened an exhibition of 50 works by herself and her husband at the Brantford Public Library, a showing which included some of her first abstracts. In the summer of 1947 she attended classes under Hans Hofmann at Provincetown, Cape Cod, and was one of the first Canadian artists to do so. Also attending were other Canadians Alexandra Luke, Ron Lambert, Lionel Thomas and later in the winter at New York City, J.W.G. Macdonald (Don Jarvis and Takao Tanabe studies under Hofmann a little later.)In 1952, Hortense Gordon held her first solo exhibit in New York City and it was very well-received.
In 1955 she was invited to exhibit at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto with a group of artists who were interested in abstract and non-objective painting. Their first exhibit had been held the yeat before. The group included Jack Bush, Oscar Cahen, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, L.W.G. Macdonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town and Walter Hawley Yarwood. With a new member added, the group decided to call themselves “Painters Eleven.”In this show, Hortense Gordon exhibited five canvases which attracted considerable attention. It was in this regard that Dr. Freda F. Waldon commented, “It was a tribute to her youthful spirit...that she was asked to join Painters Eleven in Toronto.” While others in this group were nin-objective in their painting, Hortense Gordon always started her work with an object or experience of the elements as a basis, and she remained within the realm of the abstract in all her work. A caption to her photo in Mayfair may best sum up her paintings, “A painter of everything from hurricanes to old boats, Mrs. Hortense Gordon of Hamilton, Ontario, reduces her subjects to bright powerful abstracts.”
Opening her memorial exhibition at the Hamilton Art Gallery, Dr. Freda F. Waldon paid tribute to her in these words, “I think in the long run what everyone who knew her will remember best was her immense zest for life, her conviction that art is supremely important, her great capacity for fun, her enjoyment of a party, which were all part of her vital response to life. 'Vivid personality' and 'vitality' are the words that inevitably come to mind when you think of Hortense Gordon. And 'Indomitable'. A gallant fighter to the very end.”
Hortense Gordon was a Senior Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy and was active with the Contemporary Artists of Hamilton and other art groups. She passed away in Hamilton.
Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977