Zoltan Lewinter – Frankl was undoubtedly Northern Ireland’s finest art collector and conniosseur of the late 20th century. A refugee from Vienna in 1938 who quickly identified the quality and talent of artists such as Middleton, Dan O’Neill and Gerard Dillon whilst they were still young and unknown. Such was the respect for Lewinter – Frankl’s eye, that the Belfast Museum and Art gallery held an exhibition of 248 examples from his collection in 1958. Since then, almost any painting which boasts his name in its provenance, is automatically given the stamp of quality.
When I left Ireland for a new life in Canada in the mid – 70’s , collecting art had already become a passionate endeavour. However it was many years before I felt comfortable and confident to purchase Canadian art. Different culture, different landscape and different light all conspired to make the appreciation of the art more difficult.
The early 20th century British watercolorists who emigrated to Vancouver from England painted the Rocky mountains as if they were situated at the back of a country garden in Surrey. The monumental landscape with all its severity, powerful natural rhythm and cold light were not properly addressed until the 1930’s when the “Group of Seven” emerged and captured the essence and spirit of their own country. The Victorian artists in contrast painted soft hills in a soft light – pretty paintings but all wrong in their interpretation of the Canadian landscape. Some years ago I saw a Connemara painting by a Canadian artist produced whilst he was touring Ireland. The light was wrong and the mountains were painted with far too much severity for an Irish scene. The same mistake had been made.
There is always an intimate connection between art and culture. At this time the Canadian economy continues to do well, based on an abundance of natural resources in combination with strict government control over the banks. The success of its art market reflects this economic stability. However it remains difficult for outsiders to invest into this market with any confidence for the reasons described. It is only after all these years that I have come to understand and appreciate the true depth of Lewinter – Frankl’s achievement.