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Canada’s leading contemporary outdoor and online art fair

July 12 – 14, 2024.

Ken Danby: Best in Show

Today, we pay homage to the beginnings of Toronto Outdoor Art Fair and share the history of this beloved art event founded by philanthropists Murray and Marvelle Koffler as we embark on the Diamond Jubilee anniversary.

In this series of blogs, we have put together excerpts from our history book, The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition: Its History from 1961 to 2007, and tales from the TOAF founders, early organizers and artists. It is with great pride that we continue the legacy of TOAF with unwavering commitment from supporters, public funders, fellow arts organizations and the community of artists.

Photo: The painting which won the “Best in Show” in 1961 at the first annual Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition is  ‘Untitled Abstract’ by Ken Danby, 1961, gouache on paper, 41.5 x 32″ (105.4 x 81.3 cm), collection of the artist, image scanned from The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition: Its History from 1961 to 2007.

Ken Danby: Best in Show

When the organizers of the first Outdoor Art Exhibition in 1961 welcomed the participating artists, many of them had no inclination of whether they would amount to anything in the art world. One of those young hopefuls was Ken Danby who won the Best in Show ribbon for his paintings. There were no prizes that year.

By 1964, Danby was represented by Gallery Moos in Toronto, where he remained until his untimely death in 2007. His realistic interpretations of farm and rural life had a strong and positive effect on Canadian art. He is well known for his series of limited edition reproductions to support Canada One, Canada’s entry into the America’s Cup challenge.

In 1968 the talented 28-year-old realist artist was commissioned to paint a portrait of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for the cover of Time Magazine.

Danby’s 1972 iconic At the Crease holds the publishing record for unlimited reproduction of a Canadian painting. It has been referred to as Canada’s Mona Lisa and has come to symbolize an internationally defining moment for this country – our hockey victory over Russia in the same year.

In 1982, Danby was honoured when the Governor General of Canada accepted his watercolour, Terry Fox, for Rideau Hall on behalf of the people of Canada. That same year, he was received at the White House in Washington to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, Champions of American Sport, that included At the Crease.

In 1975 The Royal Canadian Mint commissioned Ken to design commemorative Olympic coins depicting cycling, rowing, lacrosse, and canoeing.

In 1998 when Toronto’s Carrier Gallery presented Ken Danby: New Paintings, 10,000 people streamed in to see the art, and in just four weeks a Canadian sales record was set for new work by a living artist.

For more than forty years, Danby encouraged Canadians to identify with their natural and cultural heritage. He dedicated and donated his time, energy and work to environmental, educational and cultural projects and causes. Three books (Ken Danby, Ken Danby: The New Decade and Danby: Image of Sport) and a CBC “Life and Times” film (Ken Danby: Behind the Mask) have been produced about his art and life.

As a matter of interest, Danby’s “Best of Show” winner currently adorns a living room wall of his family home. 

Join Us at TOAF60

Sixty years ago, Toronto Outdoor Art Fair (previously Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) started as a humble and small gathering at the parking lot of the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Stree. This year, our main showcase of 400+ artists from Toronto, across Canada and beyond, will be primarily online, with a small sampling of artists at stackt market.

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