Forgotten Fashion Illustrator To Go On Show
The chance discovery led to a treasure trail across Europe and beyond for British art dealers Gray MCA. A rough fashion sketch handed to Exhibition curator Connie Gray sparked intrigue when she realised that the faint signature on it was that of forgotten Canadian artist Irwin ‘Bud’ Crosthwait (pictured left).
Her research took an exciting turn when she learnt that boxes left out for rubbish had been discovered by a Parisian couple living near the studio where Crosthwait had worked as his reputation as a top fashion illustrator took off.
The abandoned boxes contained sketches, photographs and letters, as well as original works from the artist’s time as a war artist with the Canadian Navy between 1944-1947. These were the first of Crosthwait’s original war works of the period that Gray MCA had seen; the only other known surviving war works being in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Within the collection were stunning sketches of his local stamping ground around Montmartre and drawings of the artist’s life in Paris.
Having no connection to Crosthwait and no knowledge of who he was, the couple made contact with friends of the artist detailed in the letters and luckily were able to reach the daughter of Crosthwait’s old family friends in Canada.
Gray MCA found further evidence of Crosthwait’s work, across Paris on the banks of the Seine, safely stored for many years with the widow of 60s haute couture fashion designer Marc Vaughan. Crosthwait had attended the prestigious Art School Pratt Institute in New York before designing fashion adverts for the well-known Canadian retail chain known today as ‘Bay’. His reputation won his appointment as an official War Artist serving with the Canadian Navy. Following ‘honourable release’ from service, Crosthwait settled in Paris and began his career as a fashion illustrator. He was to become a household name among the leading fashion publications of the period and a favourite with the haute couture houses.
Marc Vaughan’s widow, Madam Audart, not only held a collection of original Crosthwait fashion illustrations, but also housed some of the best examples of large-scale original abstract works by the artist.
The paintings had been purchased at Crosthwait’s exhibitions in Paris in the late 1950s and 60s, when Crosthwait’s Modernist works were exhibited worldwide alongside the great Abstract Expressionists, such as Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Stael and Robert Jacobsen and his close friend Victor Vasarely. Aside from admiring and collecting Crosthwait’s paintings, Marc Vaughan also commissioned him to illustrate his couture collections and over time they became great friends.
The trail didn’t stop there, a visit to Crosthwait’s original muse Ursula Frey in Switzerland unveiled more surprises. Ursula had been Crosthwait’s friend since childhood and became his trusted muse and model in the 1960s, featuring in almost all of his fashion commissions for magazines such as Harpers Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, New York Times and for designers such as Dior, Pucci, Givenchy and Yves St. Laurent. From under the bed in her Basel home she pulled out two enormous portfolios of fashion illustrations that hadn’t been seen for more than 45-years.
A selection of these stunning works will be among those going into what will be the most extensive selling exhibition of Crosthwait’s works by Gray MCA at Gallery 8, 8, St. Duke’s Street St. James’s, London, SW1, from Thursday 17-Tuesday 22 September, 2015, during London Fashion Week.
Still in Switzerland, Connie also met Stefanie Soar, whose father Peter Wallner had been a great friend of Crosthwait’s and was called upon to help, when the artist developed dementia towards the end of his life. The two men holidayed over many years in Menzonia, Switzerland where Crosthwait had a home and studio.
Wallner observed that Crosthwait was at his happiest sketching in the mountain village that had captured his heart and where he spent many years with his muse Ursula. Stefanie was in possession of an astonishing collection of Crosthwait’s abstract works, which will also feature in the exhibition.
As the picture of Crosthwait’s life unfolded, Connie was able to trace other people about their experiences with the artist. Lara Hobden Thompson’s family’s relationship with the artist goes back as far as the 1900s. They hold fond memories of him as an enchanting character, as well as his artistic prowess. He was interwoven with the family throughout the various stages of his life, until his death. The website that they have created of his work not only shows the diversity and skill of Crosthwait’s work, but ensures that his work and its appreciation lives on. A large selection of work in the exhibition will be from the Hobden Thompson private collection in British Columbia, Canada.
(Image left: Crosthwait in his latter years.)
Born of an artistic father, Irwin ‘Bud’ Crosthwait was influenced in capturing life around him from an early age and although he was passionate about Canada and won many accolades for his work, he only returned there shortly before his death in 1981.
As such Gray MCA is working with the Canadian High Commission who are supporting the opening preview evening of the first public exhibition of Crosthwait’s work in over 45 years and to bring this forgotten, yet prolific and immensely talented Canadian artist back into the public eye. The selling exhibition will offer a fantastic insight into the life and work of Crosthwait and feature the finest examples of his fashion work, abstract paintings and war art. It is set to be an historic and important addition to London Fashion Week.
On show from: Thursday, 17 September to Tuesday, 22 September 2015
At: Gallery 8, 8 Duke Street St James’s, London SW1Y 6BN.