In the Present: The Zacks Gift of 1962
Historical Feature and R. Fraser Elliott Galleries
Alicia Boutilier

“The importance of this collection cannot be ignored because it shows the very best pieces of contemporary painting—the expression of a time.”
—André Biéler, director, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1962

In the Present features Canadian paintings, drawings and sculptures that were donated, soon after they were made, as part of a larger gift from Samuel and Ayala Zacks. Cutting edge in 1962, these works provided a major boost to the fledgling gallery, then five years old, and continue to be a core of collecting strength for the Agnes.

The Zacks gift captures a vibrant moment in Canadian art and reflects the spirit of an age on the cusp of cultural change. Artists were exploring tensions between abstract and figural expression, in a bohemian world of beat poetry, cool jazz and existential thought. Meanwhile, the Space Race, Cold War, civil rights movement, Cuban Revolution and Quiet Revolution unfolded in the news.

Represented in the exhibition are artists from across Canada, with works dated 1958 to 1962, including Ron Bloore, Jack Bush, Graham Coughtry, Marcelle Ferron, Richard Gorman, Anne Kahane, Roy Kiyooka, Jock Macdonald, Robert Markle, Jean McEwen, John Meredith, Gordon Rayner, Jean Paul Riopelle, William Ronald, Michael Snow, Harold Town and Tony Urquhart.

Curated by Alicia Boutilier, with the research assistance of Anne Robinson, as part of an Art History internship course


Financier Samuel J. Zacks was born in Kingston and graduated from Queen’s University and Harvard. At the end of World War II, he met Ayala Zacks in Europe, who brought a love of art into the relationship. The Toronto-based couple became eclectic and daring collectors, often purchasing directly from the artists. With the Zacks gift in 1962, the Agnes was the first of several institutions, in Canada and Israel, to benefit from the couple’s patronage.

Image Credits

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