Sometime in 1948 I began photographing portraits in a small corner space made of two studio flats pushed together, the floor covered with a piece of old carpeting. A very rich series of pictures resulted. This confinement, surprisingly, seemed to comfort people, soothing them. The walls were a surface to lean on or push against. For me the picture possibilities were interesting; limiting the subjects' movement seemed to relieve me of part of the problem of holding on to them.
David & Vivian Campbell
20th Century Collectors and Philanthropists
David and Vivian Campbell were prominent philanthropists of the arts in Canada and collectors of early modern masters. Over the course of half a century, David and Vivian built a collection around intimate and dazzling works by giants of early 20th century art—Picasso, Matisse, Gris, Gauguin, Munch and Rodin among them—as well as later 20th century artists such as Will Barnet, Saul Steinberg and David Hockney, who grew out of the traditions of earlier masters, with a reverence for landscape and portraiture.
The scope of the century, along with the Campbells' distinct tastes within its vastness, are presented in the selection offered here; a landscape study of Le Pont Neuf by Paul Signac from 1895, the earliest work in the sale, shares the same musicality of color as Andy Warhol's screenprint of Beethoven from nearly one hundred years later. Portraits by Matisse and Hockney, done forty years apart, both present subjects that are quirky and grounded, executed with an economy and confidence of line. Irving Penn photographs Igor Stravinsky with the same adulatory nod seen in a portrait by André Kertész of his predecessor, Brassaï. An exuberant collage by Picasso celebrates the birth of his son, while Old Man's Afternoon by Will Barnet meditates on loss and aging. A thread evident throughout the selection is the ability for the art that we love to reflect the life that we live.
David and Vivian met in high school in 1938, married in 1943 and embarked on their first entrepreneurial adventure together in 1945, opening a record store in Montreal. The shop became a beloved landmark and within two years they expanded to selling electronics and household appliances. In the 1960s, David went on to establish Canada’s first cable television system and later pioneered telecommunications solutions for the banking and brokerage industry.
They acquired their first painting in the 1950s, a landscape by Canadian artist Robert Pilot, which they initially rented and were later able to purchase for $350. On beginning to build their art collection more seriously, Vivian said: “We started with one and [David] got to like it, so it went on.”
Together, they built an impressive collection of masterpieces both grand and subtle. In addition to their personal collection, David and Vivian were also major supporters of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the University of Toronto, hospitals, museum studies programs and art scholarship grants. In 2006 David Campbell was named to the Order of Canada and from 2008 to 2020, the David and Vivian Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art has been a highlight of the Art Gallery of Ontario, for which he served as president and a longtime board member.
Something grabs me, and that's all. —David Campbell
As perennial innovators, the Campbells avoided the tradition of naming in perpetuity, and instead wanted the centre to bear their name for just twelve years, with David saying: “Institutions need renewal and revitalization every ten to fifteen years, and they need the capability to achieve that with a new generation of donors.”
David passed away in 2018 and Vivian in 2020; this selection of works comes from their estate and from family—who have held some of the works in their own personal collections for close to thirty years. Wright is pleased to bring these works to the next generation of great collectors.