Contemporary artists are generally shown at one to three galleries. Every year or so, these galleries will host a solo exhibition of the artist’s new work. Finding a good selection of their work is a straightforward process.  

A major challenge for collectors when sourcing Canadian historic art is that generally, a famous historic artist’s inventory is spread out over several galleries – and most galleries only have at most a couple examples of an artist’s work in their inventory at a time. And so, knowing what is available across the market means visiting a lot of galleries.

Art Toronto brings together a large cross section of Canadian galleries under one roof. It’s an opportunity for collectors to get a more global sense of what Canadian historic art is available for sale. It’s also an opportunity to compare gallery prices.

The challenge of Art Toronto, for collectors, is navigating the fair. Trying to find a Jack Bush, a Jean-Paul Lemieux or a William Perehudoff among all the installation and contemporary art can feel like a scavenger hunt.

For collectors or Canadian art enthusiasts looking to see Canadian historic art, this post will help you discover the different famous Canadian artists showing at Art Toronto and show you where to find them. 

Early Canadian Art

One critique I have of the fair is the lack of representation of early 19th century Canadian art. Over the past five years Art Toronto has made its focus international and contemporary art. Important Canadian historic art Galleries like Loch Gallery, Mayberry Fine Art and Alan Klinkhoff don’t show at the fair and it means we don’t see many early Canadian painters like Cornelius Krieghoff, William Brymner or Frederic Verner.   


This year, Montréal’s Galerie Claude Lafitte and Calgary’s Masters Gallery are both showing works from the Canadian Impressionist movement. In the 1880’s, early Canadian artists started traveling to France to study art. These painters were exposed to French Impressionism and their work explores broken colour and brushy mark making.

Three artists for collectors to watch out for at the fair from this impressionist period are Clarence Gagnon, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, and Paul Peel. Gagnon and Suzor-Coté are excellent examples of artists who adapted the French Impressionist style to depict the Quebec winter landscape. They exploited the movements obsession with colour to incorporate hues of purple, pink and blue into their snow scenes. 

Group of Seven

The Group of Seven is considered Canada’s most iconic painting group. Their work helped usher early Canadian art into the modern era. From 1913 to 1933, these artists worked to create a uniquely Canadian painting language. It wasn’t until the Laing Galleries opened in the 1930’s that collectors discovered their art.

According to the Art Toronto program there should be an A.J. Casson paintings on view at both the Roberts Gallery (Toronto), and Oeno Gallery (Prince Edward County). The youngest member of the Group of Seven, Casson joined the group in 1926 at the invitation of Franklin Carmichael. He continued to paint well into the post war era.

The Group of Seven are best known for pure landscape subjects. However, Casson is equally celebrated for his large scale works that show scenes of village life. His interpretation of clouds is similar in aesthetic to the mountain forms, in the Algoma and Lake Superior paintings, done by Lawren Harris. Both artist incorporate a sense of pure geometric forms into their art to express the essence of nature.

For collectors looking for Group of Seven art, JEH MacDonald, Lawren Harris and Emily Carr will also be on view.


Jean-Paul Lemieux is an artist whose work acts as a bridge between the Modern and Abstract periods of art in Quebec. A student of Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (on view at Galerie Claude Lafitte), he has a strong connection to the classical tradition. But his work is all about expression and shapes. While his work remains figurative, we can feel the pull towards abstraction that would define the work of his contemporaries.

Lemieux is not a household name like artists from the Group of Seven, but he consistently performs well at auction and is sought after by collectors. He is an artist worth noting.

This year three galleries will be showing his work at Art Toronto, including Masters Gallery, Galerie Claude Lafitte, and Miriam Shiell Fine Art. Just looking at the galleries who represent Lemieux speaks to the hybrid nature of his work. Lafitte and Masters are known for their focus on early and modern art, while Miriam Shiell specializes in abstract art (and is known to bring a couple good examples of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism for collectors to see at Art Toronto).

Marc-Aurele Fortin, Maud Lewis and Peter Clapham Sheppard will also be on view.  

Canadian Abstract Art

Colour Fields

A fun game to play at Art Toronto: test your ability to tell the difference between a Jack Bush and a William Perehudoff painting. These two Colour Field artists are both known for large, thinly painted, abstract paintings of floating shapes. Part of the crossover in their art is from the long lasting relationship they both had with the New York art critic and collector Clement Greenberg.

The trick to spotting the differences is to know a little about their biographies. Bush was a Toronto illustrator who spent a good deal of time in New York with artists from the Abstract Expressionist movement. His colours and the sense of narrative in his Colour Fields work come from his background as an illustrator.

Perehudoff was from Saskatoon, and part of the Emma Lake Workshop. His choice in colour and shape is influenced by the prairie landscape. Compared to Bush, his colours are more muted and earthy. Throughout the fair collectors can see works by landscape painters Greg Hardy and Dorothy Knowles who were part of the same Emma Lake Workshop. Comparing Perehudoff’s Colour Fields work to his landscape contemporaries makes his connection to the land more obvious.

Miriam Shiell and Masters Gallery will both be showing works by Jack Bush, and William Perehudoff will be on view at Han Art (Montreal), Masters Gallery, and Rukaj Gallery (Toronto). 

Abstract Expressionism

So far I have counted four Jean-Paul Riopelle paintings and prints expected to be on view at Art Toronto. Riopelle holds the top spot for total auction sales for a Canadian artist. There is a healthy appetite for his work in Canada but also abroad. Riopelle was part of an international group of artists working in post-war Paris. He was also part of the famous Pierre Matisse Gallery. His relationship to international artists like Joan Mitchell and Zao Wou-Ki mean that his work still sells internationally at auction. Because of the popularity of his work, it is no surprise to see so many of his works on view at the fair.

Another member of the Automatiste movement with a presence at this year’s fair is Rita Letendre. She will be showing at Masters Gallery, Galeries Claude Lafitte, and Rumi Galleries (Oakville).

Like many female artists of her generation, her work was given its dues late in her career. In 2003-2004 she had her first retrospective at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec and in 2017 the Art Gallery of Ontario presented a solo show of her work. In the past couple years the price of female artists from this period has been growing. Many were overlooked in their prime, and now we are seeing their price grow and catch up to their male counter parts.

There is a long list of Abstract painters on view at the fair. Both Painters Eleven and the Automatiste movement are well represented. For collectors looking to compare stock and price, the following artists will be shown at multiple galleries: Paul-Emile Borduas, Paterson Ewen, Ray Mead, Richard Gorman, Ron Martin, and William Ronalds.

Art Toronto Collector’s Experience

Join me the weekend of October 25-27, 2019, for a 90 minute private tour of the Art Toronto fair.

Building on what we have discussed in this post, we will use the different examples of famous Canadian painters, on view at Art Toronto, to explain how historic paintings are priced.

Why is a Lawren Harris painting done between 1918 and 1927 worth more than his later abstract work?

How does the Harris on view at Art Toronto compare to the Harris painting consigned to the Heffel Fine Art Auction House by Steve Martin?

To answer these questions, we will discuss the seven steps to evaluate fine art. We will also discuss buying art at a gallery compared to buying art at auction.

These tours are for anyone who wants to understand how the art market works before they consider buying Canadian Fine Art. 

Register now for your Collector’s Experience.

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