Before his tragic death at age forty, Oscar Cahén (1916–1956) fled Nazi Germany and made his name as a celebrated magazine illustrator in North America. At twenty-four years old, Cahén fled with his family from Dresden to England, where he was detained as a possible German spy. After this daring escape from Germany, he migrated to Canada on a prison ship, along with over two thousand German-Jewish men declared enemy aliens. Despite the personal adversity he faced, Cahén soon shot to fame in his adopted home, becoming one of the country’s top magazine illustrators and abstract painters.
“Oscar Cahén initially caught my interest because his illustrations were so varied and exciting, and because he moved so easily between illustration and abstract painting.”Jaleen Grove
Cahén’s self-directed artworks are a colourful and aggressive characterization both of his bold personality and of his ongoing emotional struggles. Oscar Cahén: Life & Work traces this remarkable artist’s career and, with his friends and colleagues, his founding of the acclaimed artists’ collective Painters Eleven. This avant-garde group played an instrumental role in broadening the scope of modern art in Canada through the legitimization of abstraction. Jaleen Grove reveals why Oscar Cahén is considered one of Canada’s most influential modern artists, yet his name is little known. For almost fifty years following his death, much of his oeuvre lay in storage and was kept hidden from the world. This book shines the spotlight on this Canadian icon.
Jaleen Grove is the Postdoctoral Fellow in Popular Print in the Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University, St. Louis. A Canadian art historian with specialization in illustration studies, she is co-editor of A History of Illustration (Bloomsbury, 2017) and Associate Editor of the Journal of Illustration. Grove also maintains a studio practice alongside her research and writing.
Banner: Oscar Cahén, Austin Healey 100 Engine, 1954, oil on cradled Masonite, 91 x 122 cm, private collection.
Portrait: Portrait of Oscar Cahén on the staircase of his home in 1951, photograph by Page Toles. Cahén’s 16th Century Lady, 1948, and Rooster, c. 1950–51, are hanging on the wall in the background.