Presented by Signature Partner
Feb 20, 2024

June (1991)

Canadian portrait painter Lynn Donoghue’s stunning portrait of artist June Clark is on view now at the AGO.

Lynn Donoghue. June Clark

Lynn Donoghue. June, 1991. Acrylic on canvas, Panel: 156 × 308 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. © Estate of Lynn Donoghue.


Over two weeks in the summer of 1991, two best friends sat with each other in Toronto sharing quality time. Though they were both artists, in this instance, one played the role of creator, and the other of muse, resulting in the arresting large-scale portrait, June (1991), on view now at the AGO.   

Celebrated as a figure painter, Lynn Donoghue’s (1953-2003) work is recognizable within the context of Canadian painting in the 1980s and 90s for its bold colouring, large-scale renderings and assertive frontal-facing subjects.  Although she delved into genres of still life and abstraction, she is best known for her depictions of friends and prominent figures in Toronto’s arts community. For Donoghue, the relationship with her subjects was at the heart of her process and integral to the work: the portraits are luminous impressions of distinct individuals at a particular point in time. 

That summer, her sitter was another renowned Toronto-based artist and her best friend June Clark. Though the two had been friends for years, this marked their first artistic collaboration. Later that year, in December, Clark turned 50, and to mark this milestone, her husband purchased the portrait from Donoghue as a surprise gift. It has been hanging proudly on the wall in Clark’s home ever since until recently loaned to the AGO in conjunction with her solo exhibition, Unrequited Love.    

As visitors turn the corner entering the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art on Level 2 of the AGO, their eyes immediately meet this striking rectangular diptych. Larger than life-sized, the massive portrait is dancing with the bold and vibrant colour often characterizing Donoghue’s work. Her choice to construct the portrait as a diptych provides a touch of abstraction, separating Clark’s form between head and body. On the left, we see Clark’s body comfortably seated in a rocking chair that has been draped in red fabric. She wears black slacks and a blouse with a busy pattern reflective of early 90s fashion trends. The chair is situated atop lightly stained hardwood floors, and in front of a wall painted royal blue. The diptych’s right panel features an intimate depiction of Clark’s face, zoomed in to a greater depth than indicated by the size of her body on the left. Surrounded by a background of red, Clark’s face carries a relatively blank expression, yet the look in her eyes subtly conveys the warmth shared between two dear friends.        

Born in 1953 in Red Lake, Ontario, Donoghue received her training and developed her passion for painting at H. B. Beal Secondary School in London, Ontario. She began exhibiting work shortly after graduating in 1972, consisting mostly of portrait and figurative painting. In the mid-1970s, painting was in question as an artistic practice, and painting the figure in an expressive manner was uncommon. When expressive figuration became popular in the 1980s, broadly known as Neo-Expressionism, Donoghue was ahead of the curve.  Her work reflects personal influences and affinities from art history, including Willem de Kooning, Henri Matisse, Diego Velázquez, Alex Katz and Alice Neel. A visit to Neel’s studio in 1976 confirmed Donoghue’s resolve to become a figurative painter: “after seeing her work, I’m convinced one can paint portraits till they die and still have more to say about them.”  

Over the span of her career, Donoghue’s work was exhibited extensively across Canada. She took part in exhibitions that toured across the country, and had exhibitions in the United Kingdom and Botswana. Winner of numerous Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council grants, Donoghue was elected a Member of the Royal Canadian Academy for the Arts in 1991, and she received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. Her work is included in many public, private and corporate collections. Visit the AGO and see Donoghue’s magnificent diptych June on view now in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art on Level 2. June Clark’s solo exhibition Unrequited Love is on view now on Level 2 in the Murray Frum Gallery (gallery 249). 


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