Gershon Iskowitz

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Gershon Iskowitz (November 21, 1921 – January 26, 1988) was a Canadian artist of Jewish background originally from Poland. Iskowitz was a Holocaust survivor of the Kielce Ghetto, who was liberated at Buchenwald. He began his artistic career as an expressionist painter who dealt with figurative subjects. He later painted in the abstract expressionist style professedly inspired by the Canadian landscape.

Early life[edit]

Iskowitz was born in Kielce, in the Second Polish Republic.[1] At the age of four he was sent to the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva. He became bored and began drawing. After a year and a half he begged his father, Shmiel Yankl, to be allowed to return home and was given permission to do so. He was tutored in Polish and placed in a public school. After two and a half years his father set up a small studio area for him in their home and allowed him to spend his time drawing and painting. At the age of nine he exchanged original art posters for free admission to a local cinema.[2]

World War II[edit]

He registered at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1939. But war broke out before he began classes so he had to return to Kielce and was put to forced labour. In September 1943 the Kielce Ghetto was burned. Gershon and his brother, Yosl, were sent to Auschwitz.[3]

Gershon painted or drew at night only after every one else was asleep. He said "Why did I do it? I think it kept me alive. There was nothing to do. I had to do something in order to forget the hunger. It's very hard to explain, but in the camp painting was a necessity for survival."[4] He was transferred to Buchenwald in the fall of 1944. Near the end of the war he tried to escape but was seriously wounded. After the April 11 liberation of Buchenwald he was sent to recuperate in hospitals for about nine months.

From January to May 1947 he attended the Academy of Fine Arts Munich and had private study with Oskar Kokoschka who painted in intense expressionistic style.

Life in Canada[edit]

Gershon's first application to move to Canada was rejected because he had a limp. "Always when my life was in danger," Iskowitz found "I did a drawing and pulled through." He reapplied and drew a picture for the bureaucrat in immigration. The fellow declared Gershon a genius, predicted a great future for him in Canada, approved his emigration application and said that Gershon would have special privileges on the voyage to his new home.[5] Thus in 1949 he emigrated to Canada to stay with some relatives living in Toronto.

In 1952 he attended Artist's Workshop, Toronto (until 1959–60)and began sketching trips to Markham and Uxbridge. He stopped painting scenes from his past in the mid 50's and turned to the Canadian landscape for his models. A major change in his painting style occurred in 1967 when a Canada Council grant permitted him to view the northern landscape from a helicopter. His painting became explosions of colour and light.[6]

In 1954 he had his first exhibition with the Canadian Society of Graphic Artists. He also did some part-time teaching at McKellar Lake. He moved to his own studio on Spadina Avenue, Toronto. In 1964 he became associated with Gallery Moos, where he had many one-man exhibitions.

Gershon said "there was that period after '65 for a while when people would say, 'Do you still paint?' and I'd say, 'Yes, yes, I still paint.' And they'd say painting is dead, you know. Or if they didn't say that they'd say, 'Why don't you use acrylics?' Well, I tried them, but I stayed with oils, and the watercolours I'd been doing since I was a kid. It doesn't matter what you use, it matters how you use it."[7]

In 1982 Gershon was honoured by the AGO with a forty-year retrospective of his work.[8] A subset of the exhibition was put on display in London, England. Gershon said [painting] "... is just an extension of myself. It's a plastic interpretation of the way I think. You reflect your own vision. That's what it's all about. Art is like evolution and life, and you've got to search for life, stand on your own feet and continue. The only fear I have is before starting to paint. When I paint, I'm great, I feel great."[9]

In gratitude for the value that artistic grants had given to his career he established the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation in 1985. Its mandate was to award the annual Gershon Iskowitz Prize, in association with the Canada Council in 1986 and 1987, of $25,000 to mature artists. The Foundation awarded the prize on its own from 1988 to 2006. It then partnered with the AGO in 2007 to award this prize as the winner would then receive an exhibition at the AGO.[10]

He was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.[11] On January 26, 1988 Gershon Iskowitz died in Toronto, Ontario.

Works in public collections in Canada[edit]

Over the years, many public art galleries have acquired, through purchase and donation, works by Gershon Iskowitz. In addition, in 1995 in celebration of the Prize’s 10th Anniversary the Foundation donated over one hundred and forty paintings and works on paper to many of these same institutions. The works have been included in major exhibitions and many are exhibited as part of the Permanent Collections of these institutions.[10]

Institution City Province
Agnes Etherington Art Centre Kingston ON
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria Victoria BC
Art Gallery of Hamilton Hamilton ON
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Halifax NS
Art Gallery of Ontario Toronto ON
Art Gallery of Peterborough Peterborough ON
Art Gallery of Windsor Windsor ON
Art Gallery of York University Toronto ON
Beaverbrook Art Gallery Fredericton NB
Carleton University Art Gallery Ottawa ON
Confederation Centre of the Arts Charlottetown PEI
Edmonton Art Gallery Edmonton AB
Glenbow Museum Calgary AB
Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House
University of Toronto
Toronto ON
Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery Kitchener ON
Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery
Concordia University
Montreal QC
London Regional Art and Historical Museums London ON
Macdonald Stewart Art Centre Guelph ON
MacKenzie Art Gallery Regina SK
MacLaren Art Centre Barrie ON
McMaster Museum of Art Hamilton ON
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Kleinberg ON
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Montreal QC
Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, UBC Vancouver BC
Musée d'art de Joliette Joliette QC
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec Québec QC
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art Toronto ON
National Gallery of Canada Ottawa ON
Nickle Arts Museum Calgary AB
Owens Art Galler
Mount Allison University
Sackville NB
Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery Oshawa ON
Rodman Hall Arts Centre St. Catharines ON
The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery St. John’s NFLD
University of Lethbridge Art Gallery Lethbridge AB
University College
University of Toronto
Toronto ON
Vancouver Art Gallery Vancouver BC
Winnipeg Art Gallery Winnipeg MA

One-man exhibitions[edit]

The following table summarizes Iskowitz's one-man exhibitions:[2]

Year Venue City Prov / State
1960-1 Here and Now Gallery Toronto Ontario
1961 YMHA Toronto Ontario
1963 Dorothy Cameron Gallery Toronto Ontario
1964 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1966 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1967 Waterloo University Waterloo Ontario
1967 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1969 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1970 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1971 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1973 Hart House Toronto Ontario
1973 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1973 Rodman Hall Arts Centre St. Catharines Ontario
1972 Galerie Allen Vancouver British Columbia
1974 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1975 Glenbow-Alberta Institute Calgary Alberta
1975 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1976 Owens Art Gallery
Mount Allison University
Sackville New Brunswick
1976 Canadian Art Galleries Calgary Alberta
1976 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1977 Martha Jackson Gallery New York New York
1977 Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Halifax Nova Scotia
1977 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1978 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1979 Thomas Gallery Winnipeg Manitoba
1979 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1979 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1980 Robertson Galleries Ottawa Ontario
1981 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1982 Art Gallery of Ontario
Forty Year Retrospective
Toronto Ontario

Group exhibitions[edit]

Year Venue City Prov / State
1947 Modena Italy
1947 Paris France
1947 Munich Germany
1957 Isaacs Gallery Toronto Ontario
1957 Hayter Gallery Toronto Ontario
1958 Jordan Gallery Toronto Ontario
1959 Gallery Moos Toronto Ontario
1964 Winnipeg Biennial Winnipeg Manitoba
1965 xxvith Canadian Biennial,
National Gallery of Canada
Ottawa Ontario
1966 Winnipeg Biennial Winnipeg Manitoba
1967 Ontario Centennial Art Exhibition,
traveling exhibition throughout Ontario
organized by the Province of Ontario
Various Ontario
1970 'Eight Artists from Canada',
Tel Aviv Museum
Tel Aviv Israel
1971 Man and His World Montreal Quebec
1972 xxxvi International Biennial Exhibition of Art Venice Italy
1972 'Toronto Painters 1953–65,'
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
and the Art Gallery of Ontario
Toronto Ontario
1973 'The Canadian Canvas,'
traveling exhibition organized by Time Canada
Various Canada
1977 'Seven Canadian Painters',
Canada Council Art Bank,
traveling exhibition
Various New Zealand and Australia
1978 'A Toronto Sensibility,'
.The Art Gallery at Harbourfront
Toronto Ontario
1979 'Now and Then,' Factory 77 Toronto Ontario
1979 'Compass/8 Painters,'
The Art Gallery at Harbourfront
Toronto Ontario
1980 'Contemporary Canadian Art,'
Nabisco World Headquarters Reception Gallery
East Hanover New York
1980 'A Selection of Canadian Paintings,'
The Art Gallery at Harbourfront
Toronto Ontario
1980 'The Staff Collects – An Experiment,'
paintings from the Shell Collection,
The Art Gallery at Harbourfront
Toronto Ontario
1981 'Other Places, Other Painters; Canadian Contemporary Art,
' Sir George Williams Art Gallery, Concordia University
Montreal Quebec
2007 Thielsen Gallery London Ontario
2010 Horton Gallery New York New York

Winners of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize[edit]

In 2007, the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) established the annual Gershon Iskowitz Prize presented by AGO in order to raise awareness of the visual arts in Canada.

Year Artist City
2016 Rebecca Belmore Montreal
2015 Sandra Meigs Victoria
2014 Liz Magor Vancouver
2013 Geoffrey Farmer Vancouver
2012 Kim Adams Toronto
2011 Michael Snow Toronto
2010 Brian Jungen Vancouver
2009 Shary Boyle Toronto
2008 Françoise Sullivan Montreal
2007 Mark Lewis London, England
2006 Iain Baxter& Windsor
2005 Max Dean Toronto
2004 Rodney Graham Vancouver
2003 Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller Guelph
2002 Geoffrey James Toronto
2001 John Massey Toronto
2000 Paterson Ewen London
1999 Stan Douglas Vancouver
1998 Shirlery Wiitasalo Toronto
1997 Ron Moppett Calgary
1996 Murray Favro London
1995 Betty Goodwin Montreal
1994 Eric Cameron Calgary
1993 Vera Frenkel Toronto
1992 Irene F. Whittome Montreal
1991 Arnaud Maggs Toronto
1990 Jack Shadbolt Vancouver
1989 Gathie Falk Vancouver
1988 General Idea Toronto and New York
1987 Louis Comtois Montreal
1986 Denis Juneau Montreal


  1. ^ Gershon Iskowitz: Painter of Light, by Adele Freedman, Merritt Publishing Company Limited, 1982, ISBN 0-920886-16-7
  2. ^ a b Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ont., Jan. 23 – Mar. 7, 1982, and other museums. Curated by Burnett, David. ISBN 978-0-919876-82-8
  3. ^ Suzanne B. Rackover (2003). The Holocaust Art of Gershon Iskowitz, Isaac Applebaum and Yehouda Chaki (PDF). Collections Canada. 13 (20 / 108 in PDF) – via direct download. 
  4. ^ artscanada, Gershon Iskowitz by Peter Mellen, October/November 1971
  5. ^ Gershon Iskowitz: Painter of Light, by Adele Freedman, Merritt Publishing Company Limited, 1982, ISBN 0-920886-16-7 p. 61
  6. ^ Marisa del Re Gallery, New York, Monograph by Susan Tumarkin Goodman, Chief Curator, The Jewish Museum, New York
  7. ^ |Barrie Hale artscanada # 176/177, Feb. / March 1973
  8. ^ Iskowitz, David Burnett, Catalog of a traveling exhibition which opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Jan. 23, 1982. ISBN 978-0-919876-82-8
  9. ^ Griselda Bear, Visual Arts Officer, Canadian High Commission, London, January 1983
  10. ^ a b Nancy Hushion, Executive Director, Gershon Iskowitz Foundation
  11. ^ "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on May 26, 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 


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  • Burnett, David (1989). Ciniplex Odeon The First Ten Years: A Celebration of Contemporary Canadian Art. ISBN 0969383509. 
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  • Townsend, William (1970). Canadian Art Today. 
  • Westbridge, Anthony R.; Bodnar, Diana L. (2001). The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction. 
  • Who's Who in American Art, 1976 (12 ed.). Jaques Cattell Press. 1976. 
  • Who's Who in American Art, 1986. Jaques Cattell Press. 1986. 

External links[edit]