Illingworth Holey Kerr

Canadian [1905-1989]

Alberta Society of Artists, British Columbia Society of Artists, Federation of Canadian Artists, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

Born and raised in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, Kerr began drawing an early age and his mother, who painted in watercolour, taught him what little she could and encouraged the idea of being an artist. In 1919, a number of Kerr's works were entered into the Regina Exhibition - he received 13 first prize awards. In 1923, Kerr headed to Toronto seeking a formal art education, which he obtained at the Ontario College of Art; his teachers included Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, Frederick Varley, and William Beatty. While the Group of Seven approach to painting was not taught, Kerr was exposed to the ideals of the Group at various exhibitions and studio visits. After returning home, Kerr was moved to contribute to the rendering of a uniquely Canadian landscape, "Since the Group of Seven had passed up the prairie I thought someone should do something about it." However, Kerr was unprepared for the artistic challenges posed by the unique landscape of the Prairie, namely the open spaces and wide horizon. During the depression, Kerr had a handful of exhibitions but few sales. In 1936, feeling defeated and isolated, Kerr burned most of his paintings from that period and left for England. Ten nomadic years followed, working in film, art, and writing. Of his time, Kerr remembers "my ardent nationalism went down the drain; yet I never quite relinquished the dream of painting the prairie as I felt it should be done."

In 1946, Kerr accepted a teaching position at the Vancouver School of Art, and the following year moved to Calgary to head the Art Department at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now ACAD and SAIT). Under his 20-year tenure, Kerr lay the foundation for the Alberta College of Art, and had far-reaching influence as an instructor and mentor.

Kerr could not paint full time until his retirement in 1967. Though his proximity to the mountains, foothills and prairie drew his brush as he continued to seek the "answer to Western space with its vast scale, its power of mood rather than tangible forms". Kerr experimented with abstraction, with colour and brushwork. With increased freedom, and the wisdom of a mature artist, Kerr began to feel satisfaction with his work and the understanding that "the essence of a work of art is the product of a personality".

In 1973, Kerr was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary. In 1975, a retrospective of his work was presented at the gallery of the Alberta College of Art (later renamed the Illingworth Kerr Gallery). This exhibition subsequently toured to Regina and Saskatoon. In 1983, he was named to the Order of Canada. In 1985, a major retrospective of Kerr's work "Harvest of the Spirit" debuted at the Edmonton Art Gallery before continuing on to nine Canadian cities.

"Few painters have been closer to the Prairies than Illingworth Kerr....Illingworth Kerr is, in a sense, a regional painter, fully aware of what is being accomplished elsewhere. He has made some of the most successful interpretations of Prairie landscape ever achieved - translating the Prairie into contemporary idioms." -- Maxwell Bates

Note: Excerpts from "Illingworth Kerr: Fifty Years a Painter" (Alberta College of Art; 1973).

We are currently seeking works by Illingworth Holey Kerr to be included in future auctions.

If you are interested in selling with us or wish to get our opinion of the value of your artworks please contact us for an appointment to evaluate your artwork for auction.

A Few Notable Results from our Auctions

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

ELBOW FALLS, NIGHT; 1987
oil on canvas
36 x 48 in.

Sold for $ 19,000 (hammer price) – November 2005

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

FOOTHILLS VALLEY NEAR MILLARVILLE; 1979
acrylic on canvas
54 x 72 in.

Sold for $ 18,000 (hammer price) – May 2017

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

ACROSS THE COULEE; ca 1947
oil on canvas
24 x 30 in.

Sold for $ 15,000 (hammer price) – May 2015

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

BEAVER FLATS, ELBOW RIVER FOREST RESERVE; 1980
oil on canvas
24 x 34 in.

Sold for $ 9,500 (hammer price) – November 2007

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

EVENING LIGHT, SPRING, TENTH STREET BRIDGE; 1985
oil on canvas
22 x 28 in.

Sold for $ 9,100 (hammer price) – November 2008

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

WINTER MOUNTAINSCAPE; 1966
oil on canvas
28 x 38 in.

Sold for $ 9,000 (hammer price) – May 2018

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

BOW LAKE & GLACIER; 1976
oil on canvas
24 x 30 in.

Sold for $ 8,500 (hammer price) – May 2014

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

WASCANA VALLEY, EVENING; 1973
oil on canvas
30 x 40 in.

Sold for $ 8,500 (hammer price) – May 2012

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

STRAWSTACKS, TURNER VALLEY; 1975
oil on canvas
24 x 30 in.

Sold for $ 8,000 (hammer price) – November 2017

Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr

SHEEP ABOVE VERMILLION LAKES; 1982
oil on canvas
36 x 48 in.

Sold for $ 8,000 (hammer price) – May 2018

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