Biography of Fritz BRANDTNER

Fritz Brandtner, self-portrait, 1942



Born in Dantzig in 1898  – the city was German at the time – Brandtner emigrated to Canada at the end of the 1920s. He first settled in Winnipeg and brought with him some of his most resolutely modern works, as well as several reference books on European contemporary art. In 1963, in a letter, Brandtner wrote, “When I arrived form Europe, I had a very good idea of what art should and could do. I knew all the latest works by Kandinsky, Mondrian, Chagall, Crosz, Klee, Marc, …, Beckmann, Pechstein, Feininger, Nolde, …, Gris, Chirico, Bauer, Picasso, Léger, Matisse, etc. As for me, before I came to Canada, I had been extremely interested in cubism and its possibilities, texture, transparency, space relations and for constructivist experiments…”. In the same letter Brandtner mentioned how the ideas put forward by Gropius, Bayer, Kandinsky and Albers came as a revelation to him. He also referred to his administration for the Bauhaus, despite the fact that he never had the opportunity to attend the school. These influences Brandtner carried with him gave substance to his works, which were rooted in European and German avant-garde movements. In this way Brandtner played a unique role as a “go-between” in the development of modern art in Canada.

1934 marked the beginning of Brandtner’s involvement in the Montreal art scene. Brandtner was the first artist to show staunchly abstract art in Montreal. He did so in February 1936, when a solo exhibition of his work was presented at Morgan’s department store, sponsored by the Canadian League against War and Fascism. Brandtner was a member of this organization, as was Dr. Norman Bethune who also collected the artist’s work. In fact, Brandtner moved in to Bethune’s Beaver Hall Square apartment when the latter left the city in October 1936 to participate in the Spanish civil war. Along with Marian Scott, Brandtner gave free art courses. Thanks to Brandtner’s community involvement, children from Montreal’s slums were given the opportunity to paint, to create paper toys and give free reign to their imagination.

Beyond the Bauhaus, cubism or abstract expressionism, various other sources contributed to his work. We can see traces of Picasso and the first School of Paris as well as surrealist accents and later, during the 50’s, a surge towards lyrical or geometric abstraction. All these influences, tempered and interwoven with realism, combine to form a surprising kaleidoscope. Through this synthesized vision, Brandtner attempts to intensify a message, an emotion. The pluralist syntax serves to define his era and its spirit. 


Subject / Themes

In works from the 1930s we find bouquets, a mix of objects, pottery or bottles approaching the still-life. Sometimes, the figurative and the abstract are combined in a single work. Brandtner was also known to paint portraits and street scenes. In fact, Brandtner succeeded in being at once a modern artist and a landscape painter. He developed a personal and contemporary vision of the Canadian landscape. Natural forms are expressed through linear repetition, making use of aesthetic tools as required by the subject. Despite their abstract references, these works go to the heart of the subject, offering us a true vision of the place. For Brandtner, “The artist of our day must also liberate the inexhaustible energy reservoir of the visual associations”. His paintings reflects with brio the sometimes unpredictable directions and facets of these “visual associations”. Brandtner liked to transform trees into abstract structures. He also liked to paint and draw horses. Some works approach a certain hedonism dear to French painters of the interwar period. Others show an interest in construction and composition which neither Braque nor Le Corbusier the painter would have disavowed.

This artist, with his great love of freedom and commitment to social issues, sometimes makes of his paintings a kind of journal describing the important events of the twentieth century. Works show the horror and disasters of war. Brandtner also seeks to show the toil of workers who produce arms and ammunition: his drawings capture labourers at the Canadian Vickers factory as they work. He painted VE day in 1945 and the return of peace. Devoid of heroic or pompous accents, this joyful allegory focuses on the human aspects of the event. He also drew the technological progress, economic prosperity and positive social developments of the baby boom associated with the postwar period.

In the 1950s and 1960s, while Brandtner painted floral motifs, landscapes or more abstract compositions, he never choose purely “hard-line” abstraction, even though he was one of its pioneers. On the contrary, he never ceased trying to depict what he saw. “Without nature to stimulate and excite us, our powers of invention would soon dry up”, noted Brandtner in his journal in the 1950s. But he sought to interpret – not only imitate – nature. As he said when discussing contemporary artists, his typically modernist formal advances made him, “take an object of vision into his mind and…reshape it according to his emotions”.


From a text by René Viau for the Valentin Gallery


Solo Exhibitions

1981 Masters Gallery, Calgary

1978 Kastel Gallery, Montreal

1977-78 Kaspar Gallery, Montreal

1971-72 Sir George Williams University, Montreal

1971 Kastel Gallery, Montreal

1969 Kastel Gallery, Montreal

1954-55 Maritime Art Association (travelling exhibition)

1953 McGill University School of Social Work, Montreal

1946 Robert Oliver Gallery, Montreal

1938 The Picture Loan Society, Toronto

1936 Henry Morgan and Co., Montreal

1934 Winnipeg Art Gallery

1928 Winnipeg School of Art


Annual Group Exhibitions (occasional participation)

1937-67 Canadian Group of Painters

1937-52 Canadian Society of Graphic Art

1935-55 Canadian Society of Painters

1935-43 Royal Canadian Academy

1931-59 National Gallery of Canada

1931-59 Art Association of Montreal / Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Annual Group Exhibitions (regular participation)

1963-69 Thomas More Associates, Montreal

1959-68 St. Joseph’s Teachers’ College, Montreal

until 1960 Victorian Order of Nurses, Montreal


Selected Group Exhibitions in Canada and abroad

1977-78 Art Gallery of Ontario

1967 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

1961 Instituto nacional de belles artes, Mexico City, Mexico

1950 Art Gallery of Toronto

1950 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

1945 CGP Exhibition, Moscow, USSR

1941Brooklyn Museum, NY

1937 Montreal Arts Club

1933 Manitoba Society of Artists



1968 Canada Council Visual Arts Award

1948 First Place – Canadian Olympic Competition for oil painting Breaking away

1946 AAM Jessie Dow Prize for watercolour Sixteen islands



Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston

Art Gallery of Hamilton

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Windsor

Concordia University, Montreal

Department of External Affairs, Government of Canada, Ottawa

Edmonton Art Gallery

Hart House, University of Toronto

Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa

Musée d’art contemporain, Montreal

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Upper Canada College, Toronto

University of Guelph

University of Fredericton

Vancouver Art Gallery

Private Collections


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