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Tom Forrestall (b.1936)

Tom Forrestall

Tom Forrestall, Island in the Ice, 1987
Egg tempera on Masonite, 72.5 x 214.5 cm
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax

From the early 1970s one of the most prominent of Halifax-based artists has been painter Tom Forrestall, a pillar of Atlantic Realism and a student of Alex Colville (1920–2013). Forrestall won critical and wide public recognition in the 1960s as part of renewed interest in realist painting. His work was shown across Canada, as well as in New York and in Europe, where he had several touring exhibitions. In the mid-1960s Forrestall began to paint images on a variety of forms such as circles, polygons, and triangles. These shaped paintings reflected his assertion that the rectangle is just one shape among many. A parallel approach was to use multiple images in the shaped forms, creating diptychs, triptychs, and more.


Tom Forrestall was born in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in 1936, near what is now Middleton. When he was six, his family moved to Dartmouth and remained there for nine years. At eleven years old, Forrestall began taking Saturday classes at the Nova Scotia College of Art. In 1954 he began his studies at Mount Allison University, graduating four years later. His teachers there were Alex Colville, Lawren P. Harris (1910–1994), and Ted Pulford (1914–1994). Studies with Colville introduced Forrestall to the technique of egg tempera painting, and by the late 1960s it had become his preferred medium. Egg tempera is made by suspending powdered pigment in egg yolk. It dries quickly, and successful use of it requires a meticulous approach with small brushes—a style well suited to realism. The paint is durable, doesn’t fade, and can be buffed and varnished to achieve seeming depth.


After graduating from Mount Allison, Forrestall moved to Fredericton, where he was briefly the assistant curator at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. In 1971 the Beaverbrook Art Gallery organized his first touring exhibition, which travelled across Canada and the United States. Many followed, most recently Tom Forrestall: Paintings, Drawings, Writings, organized by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 2008.


In 1972 Forrestall moved back to Dartmouth, where he still lives. Active in his community, he served on the boards of directors of both the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. His work can be found in major public and private collections across Canada, including those of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, among others.


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