William Ronald

Canadian Artist; P11 RCA (1926-1998)

William Ronald was born in Stratford, Ontario in 1926. From the age of twelve Ronald wanted to become a painter. His younger brother, John Meredith Smith, had ambitions too of becoming a painter. He enrolled in the Ontario College of Art. One teacher, J.W.G. (Jock) MacDonald, who had done his first abstract painting in 1933, saw in Ronald a creative talent. During early exhibitions he encountered other abstract artists Ray Mead and Tom Hodgson. Toronto had fewer galleries then, and fewer places willing to show abstract work. This situation prompted Ronald to make suggestions to his bosses in Simpson’s display department, to show abstract paintings with furniture to enhance the display.  He contacted those artists he knew – Oscar Cahén, Jack Bush, Alexandra Luke, Kazuo Nakamura, Ray Mead and Tom Hodgson. Following the show the seven artists realized that better opportunities lay in store for them if they exhibited together. Since they didn’t want to be referred to as another Group of Seven, they decided to form a larger group. Ronald invited his old teacher Jock Macdonald, Cahén invited both Harold Town and Walter Yarwood, Mead asked Hortense Gordon and they finally numbered eleven to form Painters Eleven. In February of 1954 they held their first group show at Roberts Gallery, Jack Bush’s dealer. The largest crowd in the history of the gallery showed up at the opening.

Ronald moved to New York in 1955. As he became known in New York art circles he was able to arrange an invitation for Painters Eleven to show with American Abstract Artists in their annual exhibition in 1956 at the Riverdale Museum. In April of 1957 he held his first solo show there and signed a contract with Kootz Gallery, NYC. For the next six years he exhibited with Kootz. A change in vogue to Pop Art, which Ronald could not relate to, left him with too small an audience to continue making a decent living. He had his last show at Kootz Gallery in December, 1963. 

William Ronald (left) with Prime Minister Pierre-Elliot Trudeau

In 1966 Ronald was offered a programme on the arts, by CBC television producer, John Kennedy. He accepted and became host of “The Umbrella” run on Sunday afternoons. The programme which had its share of controversey lasted two seasons and had a viewing audience of 1.2 million. Afterwards Ronald turned to painting once more. Some of his flowing lineal murals were attracting attention. In 1967 Fred Lebensold, architect for the National Art Centre in Ottawa, was looking for an artist who could tackle a large scale colourful mural. He thought of Ronald. Unannounced he dropped into Ronald’s Toronto studio to invite him to submit a proposal for a mural. Ronald came up with one of his flowing lineal compositions measuring 44 x 60 feet (later entitled “Tribute to Robert F. Kennedy” chosen by Ronald to honour R.F.K. in the way a writer dedicates a book to a friend). The three-story mural is influenced by both landscape and music. The mural is widely admired by public and planners alike because of the difficult area the artist had to work with. While continuing with his painting career Ronald returned to broadcasting and hosted “Theme & Variations” in-depth interviews and music, CBC (1968); “As It Happens” six hours straight, interviews with people making the news, CBC (1969-72); “Free For All”, public access programme, CITY-TV, (1972-74, 1977). In 1975 Joan Murray, director of the McLaughlin Gallery and Kathryn Reid Woods organized the exhibition “Ronald: 25 years”.  The show toured eight galleries across Canada. 

His “prime ministers” project, planned over several years, is his version of portraits of 16 of Canada’s prime ministers. Each of the portraits differs in size and technique, to suit the personality and reputation of the subject politician. The portraits were first shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario, May 1, 1984, officially opened by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau the exhibition then went on tour across Canada. During his career Ronald has done hundreds of paintings. He is represented in over seventy public collections and museums. Ronald passed away February 9, 1998 in Barrie, Ontario.

SELECTED COLLECTIONS: Ronald is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal; the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, New York; the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore; the Whitney Museum, New York; to name a few.

The record price for this artist at auction is $163,800.00 for Drumbeat, sold at Heffel in 2008.


2 Replies to “William Ronald”

  1. Pingback: VILHENA FINE ART

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *