Work & Bio

Albert Franck

Born in 1899
 / Died in 1973

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Biography

Harold Town, in his 1974 book Albert Franck – Keeper of the Lanes said that Albert Franck was “a meat and potatoes painter whose work tasted like caviar.” Town and many of his famous contemporaries were directly influenced by Franck’s work and by his example of independence. Town wrote: “What makes Albert Franck’s contribution unique is the fact that he was not pursuing the barbarians of the new or defending the crusty antiquarians of the old, he was following his heart.” Albert Jacques Franck was born in Middelburg, Holland on April 2, 1899. After a period of global travel following World War I, and fame as a swimming champion in Belgium, Franck came to Canada. His first employment being a swimming instructor, Franck was soon employed in the fine arts department at Eatons and Company in Montreal, then at Simpsons in Toronto. The depression hit, and Franck was laid off. It was during this difficult time that Franck began his own business as a painting restorer and revived his interest in painting. Franck began to produce in oil, watercolour and print what would become his trademark – the lanes and homes of Toronto. Because of his knowledge as a painter and restorer, he was sought out by many young Toronto artists, among them Town and friends such as Kazuo Nakamura, Ray Mead, Helen Yarwood and Oscar Cahen. Before they would become Painters Eleven, Franck offered all of them council, guidance and friendship. Franck’s own work gradually gained in attention and acclaim until his most unprecedented successes with Roberts Gallery throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Franck contributed to several group exhibitions with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Town, in Keeper of the Lanes called the AGO’s 1973’s “A Tribute to Albert Franck” arranged shortly after Franck’s death, “one of the most successful in the gallery’s history.” Town believed then what many believe now: “What Franck saw and recorded years ago, when it was fashionable to leave this city denouncing our provincial ways, has become a holy cause, a solid fact of political life and a civic example through all of North America.” Albert Franck’s work can be found in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, University of Toronto Hart House, the McMichael Gallery and many other public and private collections around the world.

by Daniel Gallay for Roberts Gallery Limited

FRANCK, Albert Jacques

1899-1973

Born at Middelburg, Holland, he was interested in art from an early age but his father discouraged him from becoming an artist and consequently he did not begin to paint until after his arrival in Canada in 1926 following a series of ventures in Indonesia, California, and the winning of a national swim­ming championship in Belgium. He worked as a swimming instructor at the Central YMCA in Montreal and at Jasper Park and elsewhere. He had musi­cal training as a boy and played the cello. Through his interest in swimming and music he met his artist wife, Florence Vale. During his first year in Canada he began to paint and did street scenes as early as 1928. In the late 1920’s he worked in the fine art department of Simpson’s store in Toronto. With the market crash of 1929 he lost his job. Nine bad years followed but in 1940 he established himself in the picture restoring business and made his living as a painter under the title of Picture Restorer. In 1947 he had begun solo shows first at Simpson’s and Eaton’s (1947-50); Roberts Gallery, Tor. (1957) (1960); Hart House, Tor. (1958); Galerie Moos (1960) and York U. (1963) and elsewhere. His subjects were old houses, usually in Toronto. With his camera he took many pictures, choosing the best for his sketch (slightly different from the actual photograph), from which he then made the larger finished painting (altered again from the sketch). He worked in all painting media. Reviewing his work in April of 1964, Harold Town wrote, “. . . . His success is based firmly in reality, the reality of his talent. Not long ago though, at the beginning of his recognition for the thing he does best, he embarked on a series of paintings of Canada seen from the air. They failed mainly because Franck, a great host, and lover of food, women, dogs, cats, birds, snow, and urban congestion, was unable to establish an intense relationship with clouds and the essentially abstract experience of the air. Despite this he returned to his streets with new vigour and greater powers of architectonic organization . . . . Franck is now at the height of his powers, and must rank with the country’s best realists, but as a painter of urban streets it seems to me that he has no peers, past or present . . . .” His shows were usually a sellout and there was a waiting list for his paintings. He is represented in the following collections: AGO, Tor.; UWO, Lond., Ont.; U. of Guelph; J. Grant Glassco (Trustee, NGC), the late Robertson Davies; and in many other collections in Canada, U.S.A., Great Britain, the Netherlands, Rome, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. He died in Toronto at the age of 74. Affiliations: CSPWC, OSA, ARCA (1961-70).

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Professional Activities

Discouraged from entering the arts by his family, Albert Franck did not begin painting seriously until after his arrival in Canada (Montréal) in 1926, at the age of 27.

Though Franck did paint some street scenes as early as 1928, the series Toronto scenes of backyards and house fronts that he became so well known for wasn’t begun until after the Second World War when he moved to 90 Gerrard Street West with his wife, artist Florence Vale.

- Was discouraged from becoming an artist by his father and did not begin to paint until after 1926
- worked in the Fine Art Department at Simpsons in Toronto in the late 1920's
- Established himself as a Picture Restorer in 1940
- Began showing solo in 1947

Member of

-Ontario Society of Artists

Solo Exhibitions

Simpsons, 1947 - 1950
Eaton’s Gallery, 1947 - 1950
Roberts Gallery (one man shows from 1950 – 1970’s)
Hart House, 1958
Gallery Moos, 1960
Retrospective, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1973

Collections

- J. Grant Glassco (Trustee of the National Gallery of Canada)
- Robertson Davies
- Many Private collections in Canada, USA, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Rome, Mexico, Austrailia, New Zealand