By Mark Skeffington
One notable admirer of Canadian artist William John Hopkinson’s paintings was the American actor Vincent Price, best known for starring in dozens of gothic horror movies.
Vincent Price (1911-1993) penned a letter to W.J. Hopkinson on the occasion of the Newmarket, Ontario artist’s 80th birthday in 1967.
The letter reads:
“Dear William Hopkinson. As a long time admirer of your beautiful paintings, may I join the throng in wishing you a very Happy Birthday! Sincerely, Vincent Price.”
The handwritten letter sits inside a family scrapbook belonging to W.J. Hopkinson’s grandson, Dave Forsythe.
Vincent Price also owned and promoted W.J. Hopkinson’s art.
Vincent Price became an actor in 1938, but really began to make a name for himself in the 1950s when he began starring in gothic horror films, including those based on the books of Edgar Allan Poe.
The actor’s distinctive voice and tall, thin stature (he was 6-foot-4) made him stand out in a series of roles, many as a villain, vampire or as a character prone to black humour.
The actor was a sort of Renaissance man. He hosted radio shows, narrated books on spoken-word records, delivered poetry readings, starred in theatre productions, and devoted himself to gourmet cuisine, which led to his own TV cooking show and the writing of several cookbooks.
Vincent Price was also an art collector, with eclectic tastes, and had studied art history at university.
In 1948, Vincent Price, fellow actor and art collector Edgar G. Robinson, and other art lovers opened a short-lived art gallery in Hollywood.
A few years later, in 1951, Vincent Price founded the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles Community College. Over the years, the actor donated several thousand works of various kinds to the college’s collection, which continues to grow.
It made sense, therefore, that the Sears Roebuck and Company department store chain turned to Vincent Price in the 1960s for its short foray into the art business.
Sears customers in the United States and Simpson’s Sears customers Canada could purchase original works of art, lithographs, silkscreens and woodblocks, with a modest down payment and monthly payments. It was an attempt to spread art to the masses, so to speak, making art accessible and affordable.
In Canada, Simpson’s hosted the Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art at its Bay Street, Toronto, flagship store. Artworks were largely historical Canadian (including A.J. Casson, A.Y. Jackson, Cornelius Krieghoff) with contemporary art also included (Harold Town, Jean Paul Riopelle).
Works by W.J. Hopkinson were also part of the collection. A photo of one W.J. Hopkinson work called Burnt Country was shown in a newspaper advertisement for the collection.
In 1965, the actor came to the Toronto Home Show, held at the CNE grounds, to help promote the venture, attracting positive write-ups in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail newspapers.
By 1971, the selling of art from the collection had stopped, but an estimated 50,000 pieces had been purchased by Sears customers over almost a decade.
W.J. Hopkinson paintings with a Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art label on the back sometimes show up on the art market, although the story behind that label is little known today.
Video: 1962 Vincent Price Sales Training Video for Fine Art Collection, retrieved from YouTube.
Video: Vincent Price Art Museum, with walkthrough with Vincent Price, retrieved from YouTube
Article: Vintage Toronto Ads: The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art, by Jamie Bradburn, Dec. 12, 2014, The Torontoist.
Article from the Sears Archives: Sears and Fine Art – Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art.
About the Writer: Mark Skeffington is an art collector & co-founder of FineArtCollector.ca, a Canadian fine art gallery; he lives in Niagara, Ontario, Canada.