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Jack Beder, Self-portrait (detail), 1938. Gift of André Valiquette, M2015.51.1 © McCord Museum

Jack Beder, Jewish Painter of Montreal

Currently on display in the “Creating Together” section of the exhibition Shalom Montreal – Stories and Contributions of the Jewish Community, this striking self-portrait by Jack Beder was painted in 1938. At the time, Beder was part of a new generation of Montreal artists who were redefining the relationship between modernism and landscape painting.

Jack Beder, Self-portrait, 1938. Gift of André Valiquette, M2015.51.1 © McCord Museum

Jack Beder was born in Opatów, Poland, in 1910. At the age of 16, he moved to Montreal to join his father. He studied at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montreal School of Fine Arts) from 1929 to 1934 and made a living by designing advertisements. As a member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour and the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, he regularly participated in exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal (beginning in 1931) and the Contemporary Arts Society of Montreal (as of 1939).

Jack Beder was one of the most representative members of a group of artists known as the “Jewish Painters of Montreal” who depicted the social realism of the city during 1930s and 1940s. This term, first used by the media to describe the participants in the annual Young Men’s – Young Women’s Hebrew Association art show in the 1930s, was popularized by art historian Esther Trépanier in the 1980s.

The subject of a 2004 retrospective at Concordia University’s Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Beder’s work can be found in numerous museum collections and dozens of private collections throughout Canada. The McCord Museum’s holdings include 13 paintings by this artist.

This painting is unlike other known self-portraits by the artist, thanks to its form, restrained expression, and fine sense of values. The Beder family owns a self-portrait painted in 1933 similar to this one in that it is a finished painting, but it does not exhibit the same level of confidence in the use of oil as a medium. The three other known self-portraits, a charcoal drawing (1936-1937) found in the collection of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, a watercolour (1936) belonging to the family and another watercolour (1939) owned by the Ingram Gallery, are more like studies than finished works.

The self-portrait in the McCord Museum’s collection was painted the same year that Montreal critics unanimously recognized Beder as part of the avant-garde wave of artists like Jean Palardy, Jean Paul Lemieux, Jori Smith, Louis Muhlstock and others.

Christian Vachon, May 2018

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