William Kurelek and Winter on the Prairie

W. Kurelek, "Home on the Range" (1967)

W. Kurelek, “Home on the Range” (1967)


On previous visits to the AGO in Toronto I’ve noticed William Kurelek’s paintings but for some reason his artwork stood out more notably on my most recent visit.  Perhaps this was because my trip there was during a week of extreme cold just before year-end and many of Kurelek’s scenes on display at the AGO are prominently set during the winter.

Kurelek’s parents were Ukrainian immigrants to Canada and settled in the prairie regions, initially in Alberta and later, after his parents lost their farm during the Great Depression, in Manitoba.  Winters can be harsh in much of Canada, but the vast unpopulated stretches of the country’s midsection make for a particularly stark cold season.  While a viewer of his paintings can find other themes in his work (for example, his Catholicism or the influence of Hieronymous Bosch in Kurelek’s “Harvest of Our Mere Humanism Years” below), the experiences of his family and his youth on the Canadian prairie permeate many of his paintings, often in dichotomies. Thus, one can glean the tough slogging of farm work during winter (such as in “Child With Feed in Winter” below) as well as the whimsy and high-spiritedeness of childhood even in the midst of endless snowscapes or the as yet unknowable worries of the adult world (such as with “Reminiscences of Youth” and “After the Blizzard in Manitoba”, both also below).

Kurelek was a prolific painter and other aspects of life on the Canadian prairies can be found in his extensive body of work, but at this time of the year his “winter works” speak most clearly to me.   The collaborative art site William Kurelek / The Messenger is a terrific resource for more background on this notable artist and his distinctively Canadian art.

W. Kurelek, “Reminiscences of Youth” (1968)


W. Kurelek, “Untitled (Child With Feed in Winter)” (1967)


W. Kurelek, “After the Blizzard in Manitoba” (1967)


W. Kurelek, “Sunset Cape Dorset Airstrip” (1968)


W. Kurelek, “Harvest of Our Mere Humanism Years” (1972)


W. Kurelek, “Wintertime North of Winnipeg” (1962)


Similar Posts on O’Canada:

♦  Magical Winterscapes By Group of Seven

♦  Bob Pitzel’s Art of the Vanishing Prairie

♦  Retro Winter Recreation and Travel Ads

74 responses

  1. I didn’t know about Mr Kurelek’s work, but I really like the pieces you’ve linked in! The “After the blizzard in Manitoba” one in particular, really made me smile, with just the tip of the electric poles sticking out of the snow… Thank you for sharing 🙂

      • Indeed! I remember when I lived in Fermont (in Nothern Québec) as a child, and we had snow up to the houses’ rooftops…

        My friend and I had even climbed on the roof once (I was only 5 or 6 back then) and let me tell you, when Dad saw us up there, he made it VERY clear that we weren’t to do it again…. LOOOL

      • Quebec gets its fair share of snow. Thanks for sharing that and your roof adventure. 🙂 Part of the fun of doing things like that as a kid is the thrill of the unknown (and maybe a little of the forbidden). As a kid I wondered if one could suffocate beneath a high snowbank after burrowing into it.

      • Hehehehe why do we have to grow up…? Hmmm. I remember, I used to make squirrel condos in snowbanks, by carving some little rooms in the snow and even made windows with thin ice… and left nuts and stuff to eat… Needless to say they weren’t too popular 😛

  2. I would love to see these paintings in person.
    I met a fellow from Manitoba earlier this evening in Kissimmee, a town near Orlando, Florida. He spends his winters here now, perhaps with memories of a”blizzard in Manitoba.”

    • Seeing the paintings at a gallery like the AGO is a wonderful setting. It’s a long drive to Florida but those “snowbirds” must find it to be worth the effort.

  3. Kurelek died relatively young and was I am told a convert to the RC Church became somewhat of a mystic and had mental health issues. Still a great painter, I often think of Otto Dix after 1939 when I look at Kurelek.

  4. I love Kurelek’s paintings. We have one of his hanging in our den—a great outdoor hockey scene. My husband and I both grew up in cold places (Regina and Montreal) and spent much time at outdoor rinks, so it brings back vivid memories of fun and frozen toes.Thanks for sharing these wonderful paintings. “After the Blizzard” is my favourite.

  5. I’ve always loved Kurelek’s paintings – to me, they have such a human quality about them.

    Although I’m not overly religious, one of my favourite Christmas books is A Northern Nativity in which he created both the text and the wonderful illustrations.

    These paintings of the prairie winters give the viewer a keen sense of the bleak landscape during the cold winter months – we can almost feel the frigid temperatures!

    Many thanks for posting these, Brett.

  6. Having spent many cold winters in Manitoba, these paintings are such a great reminder of the heartiness and resourcefulness of Prairie folks. I love Kurelek’s work, Brett. Thank you for sharing these gems! Cher xo

  7. The paintings are making a deep impressions on me. I can relate to the painter’s experiences in the bitter cold environment of a Prairie winter. We spent five years in Consort Alberta, when the temperature often plunged to minus 45 C. Very beautiful art work!

  8. I have always loved Kurelek´s work. What vivid memories came flooding back to me as I read this post. I must say, although I miss Canada and the prairies, I don´t miss the snow and cold.

  9. These are fabulous .. being a collector of indigenous folk art & traveling thru NWT last summer.. I didn’t see the detailed work as I see in these ..thanks for sharing this.. take care!

  10. Fabulous! I’d never heard of Kurelek and what a shame; his paintings are beautiful. Love the children playing in the snow, after the blizzard. Thanks for the great blog(s).

  11. Oh, thank you for posting about this wonderful Canadian artist. Someone gave my husband the book A Prairie Boy’s Winter. We were living in Australia by then, and the paintings brought tears to our eyes, this was our lives, also.

  12. I always love to come to your blog and find new marvels I wasn’t aware of before. You do such a great job paying homage to those artists and displaying their work with so much passion. Thank you for always teaching me new things and for expanding my horizon. Hugs

  13. Especially relevant, as we in Central Texas are all homebound (and no school) due to the Winter Advisory because it SLEETED. Canadians would laugh at us. I thought I was frosty until I saw these paintings!

  14. “Reminiscences of Youth” is my absolute favourite painting of all time! So many pieces of art at the AGO but I’d often myself going back to that one.

  15. Brett, all of this artwork by William Kurelek was beautiful. The one which was both nostalgic and resonated with me was the, “Reminiscences of Youth” painting. 🌨 ⛄☄

  16. Pingback: Finding Inspiration In Tucked Away Places | Chubby Girl Journey

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