John Kasyn: A Hidden Gem of Canadian Art

04 August, 2023 2 min read

John Kasyn: A Hidden Gem of Canadian Art

We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of several remarkable pieces by the late John Kasyn (1926-2008), a talented artist whose work has captured the essence of Toronto's architectural beauty. Though often referred to as Toronto's least famous painter, Kasyn's art holds a unique and significant place in Canadian art history.

A Love Affair with Winter

Red Hood on Major Street by John Kasyn

Above Image: Red House on Major Street 36"x28" [Sold]

Kasyn's connection with Toronto's winter was profound. He once declared, "Winter is my time. It's a moody time of the year, and the sky changes fast. I rarely paint a house on a sunny day. It doesn't do anything for you." His winter scenes, filled with contrast and detail, bring the city's architecture to life in a way that resonates with many.

A Journey from Poland to Toronto

Born in Poland, Kasyn moved to Winnipeg with his family at age 11 and later to Toronto. His artistic journey began at the Ontario College of Art in the 1940s, where he studied under renowned artists like F. S. Challener and George Pepper. Kasyn's dedication to his craft led him to leave a well-paying job in the fur business to pursue his passion for art.

Capturing Toronto's Neighborhoods

Above Image: Before Demolition, Bleecker St 14"x10" [Sold]

For five decades, Kasyn painted Toronto's neighbourhoods, focusing on an older, gentler Toronto before the renovators moved in. He was drawn to the back lanes, where the real life of the houses was evident. His affection for the city's architecture was palpable, and he amassed a library of over 6,000 slides, capturing every street and lane in Toronto.

"One morning, I was on Bleeker Street, and the crane with the wrecking ball was right there," he recalls." "I pointed my camera and took shots of everything as fast as I could while the houses were still standing."

Some of the notable neighborhoods he painted include Cabbagetown, The Annex, Rosedale, and Kensington Market. These areas are significant for their rich history, diverse architecture, and cultural importance in Toronto. Kasyn's paintings preserve a glimpse of Toronto that once was, making them valuable pieces of cultural heritage.

A Legacy That Endures

Kasyn's paintings were well-received, with over 4,000 sold since the 1960s. His work entered private and corporate collections and found success in the secondary market. Despite some criticism, Kasyn's work held its unique place, with his treatment of subjects considered more appealing and warm.

Explore John Kasyn's Collection

We invite you to explore our collection of John Kasyn's artwork at the West End Gallery. Whether you're a seasoned collector or new to the world of art, Kasyn's paintings offer a unique opportunity to own a piece of Toronto's history.

View John Kasyn's Collection

Information for this blog post was partly gathered from publicly available sources from the Toronto Star.  Private archives held by the West End Gallery include a multitude of private letters from John Kasyn. 

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