Between 1947 and 1956, Oscar Cahén designed thirty-eight covers for Maclean’s, then Canada’s dominant national magazine. Magazine covers were prestigious because they allowed more freedom than most other kinds of illustration assignments; it was the artist’s responsibility and privilege to come up with smart ideas, for which he or she was well compensated. Seen across the entire nation, sometimes framed to hang on people’s walls, Maclean’s covers were ideal for delivering an important message in the guise of a playful cartoon.

 

Art Canada Institute, Oscar Cahén, Cover illustration for Maclean’s, January 15, 1952
Oscar Cahén, Cover illustration for Maclean’s, January 15, 1952
Tearsheet, 35 x 27cm, original in illustration in a private collection

At the time that this cover was created, Cahén and his colleagues were confronting a Canadian art milieu that saw abstract art as mere “meaningless doodling.” During the 1951 exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA), conservative artists resigned in protest over the new swell of modern art. In press coverage of the controversy, Oscar Cahén’s Expressionist Rooster, c. 1950–51, was singled out. Consequently, Cahén designed this cover poking fun at a cliché of Canadian art: the wintery landscape, such as the Group of Seven had painted. In the illustration, the art gallery wall is lined with them, but the winter-weary visitors in their heavy clothing have eyes only for the one summer scene—marked sold with a red star.

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