Untitled I, by Canadian modern art pioneer Kathleen Munn (1887–1974), is among the first purely abstract paintings made in this country. References to natural landscape forms are discernible in the solid shapes of primary colours dynamically organized in this composition. These abstract shapes appear in many of Munn’s paintings from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Munn experimented in step with her friend Bertram Brooker (1888–1955), who exhibited his abstract paintings in January 1927.


Kathleen Munn, Untitled I, c.1926–28

Kathleen Munn, Untitled I, c.1926–28
Oil on canvas, 37 x 60 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Until recently Untitled I was believed to be one of two surviving abstract paintings by Munn, its companion piece being Untitled II. While restoring Untitled II in 2012–13, Michael O’Malley, painting conservator at the Centre de conservation du Québec, discovered that these two paintings originally formed a single canvas, which was cut apart, almost certainly by the artist, with a fragment now missing. 


It is unlikely that Munn exhibited this work. Along with Untitled II, the unframed canvas was found rolled up and stored among Munn’s many belongings inherited by her niece Kathleen (Kay) Richards.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Kathleen Munn: Life & Work by Georgiana Uhlyarik.

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