Thursday, April 26, 2007

Out of the Darkness...

Oscar Cahén was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 8th 1916. He studied design, illustration and painting in Germany, Italy, France, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. He had his first one-man show in Copenhagen in the 1930's (before he was twenty).

Cahén, with a Masters Degree in Fine Art from the Kunstakadame in Dresden, was enjoying a career as a professor of design, illustration and painting at the Rotter School in Prague. But his anti-Nazi activities in pre-war Germany necessitated flight, bringing him to Canada.

Author Robert Fulford wrote, "Like many Jews, [Cahén] was at first interned as an enemy alien by an obtuse Canadian government; contacts in the art world finally rescued him, and he went to work as a commercial artist."

The details of Oscar Cahén's entré into the Canadian illustration field are actually even more fascinatingly coincidental than simply "being rescued".

The famous Canadian illustrator, James Hill, in a speech delivered at the 1988 CAPIC President's Dinner, said, "A regional news magazine in Quebec, The Standard, was running a story on "displaced persons" in the refugee camp where Cahén was interned. They noticed him working on a drawing. Soon afterwards, Ben Turner, the Art Director of The Standard began using Cahén's work in the magazine."

"A year later Oscar was released thanks to the intervention of several insightful individuals who had noticed the quality of Oscar's work and who were willing to guarantee the Camp Commander that Oscar could earn a living wage and would not become involved in subversive political matters."

"Among Cahén's early supporters were Dick Hersey of The Montreal Standard, Stan Furnival, who subsequently became Art Director of Chatelaine Magazine, and Gene Aliman of New Liberty, and later Maclean’s."

"Before long, Oscar Cahén was busy forging a powerful reputation for being a vibrant and versatile illustrator with a conscientious and disciplined approach to all assignments. With a reputation like this, it was not surprising that Oscar was soon working for all the top publications of the day."

*Most of the information and some of this week's images are from The Cahén Archives. Please visit the site for more artwork, photos and information about this great Canadian artist.

All of this week's images and information are © The Cahén Archives.


  1. I love Oscar's versatility -- he would appear to be the personification of a commercial artist comfortable with many different approaches, yet maintains the same level of sensitivity, no matter the medium. I see echoes of Henry C. Pitz, Pete Hawley, & Disney -- & many others. Wonderful illustrator!

  2. Love this guy's stuff. He's got so much life to his line work and his range of whimsical to serious storytelling is immense.


  3. Wow, I feel like such a philistine for not having heard of Cahen. Also, I'm surprised by the early dates on many of the magazine illustrations - the work seems quite experimental for its time. Thanks for posting these and enlightening me.

  4. Thanks for your comments, guys! I'm so glad to know that you all enjoy Cahén's work as much as I do. It would be a shame if he was forgotten.

  5. thank you for posting this phenomenal work. something about the figures in his later work is reminiscent of the Simplicissimus school.

  6. I'm digging all this stuff, Leif. Excellent expose on this (to me) unknown artist!

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  8. Cahen's illustrations will be on exhibit for the first time since he was alive (he died in 1956) in October 2011, at Illustration House in New York.