We are greatly saddened by the passing of William W. Perehudoff, one of Canada’s foremost modernist painters, on February 26, 2013 at Luthercare Communities nursing home in Saskatoon. He passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family.
Born in in Saskatoon in 1918 he grew up on the family farm near Langham, Saskatchewan. After studying art in Colorado Springs and New York he travelled to London where he was engaged to Dorothy Knowles. They were married in France in 1951 and returned to live in Saskatchewan for the duration of their 61 years of marriage.
A renowned color field painter with an international reputation, Perehudoff was a Member of the Order of Canada and of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. He was a recipient of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and held an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Regina. Most recently, in 2012, he was the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
His art career was fostered early on by important figures in Saskatchewan art including Robert Hurley whose evocative prairie landscapes and knowledge of color theory left a lasting influence on his work. Also significant was his relationship with the Mendel family in Saskatoon whose extensive art collection was a significant resource for an emerging artist. In 1947 Fred Mendel accepted Perehudoff’s proposal to create large murals in the plant cafeteria of Intercontinental Packers. Working for union wages he earned enough to further his studies in Colorado with the eminent French muralist Jean Charlot and in New York with Amédée Ozenfant, co-founder along with Le Corbusier, of Purism. Also essential to his continuing development as an artist was his close association with his wife, artist Dorothy Knowles, with the Emma Lake Artist Workshops and with a wide-ranging, yet close artistic community. His career spanned nearly seven decades and the elegance, intelligence and brilliant color of his work helped define Canadian abstract art and influenced successive generations of painters. His paintings are included in many significant public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Civilization. Recently the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon mounted a major retrospective of his work entitled The Optimism of Colour which toured extensively.
William retained a love of learning all his life. His tastes were wide ranging: the history of art and art criticism, Greek historians and philosophers and of course, the Russian classics. He never lost track of his origins and was always there to care for family, even while working as Art Director for the Modern Press, developing his career as an artist and maintaining a working farm. His Doukhobor heritage informed his life and work, giving him a deep and abiding connection to the land. Growing up surrounded by colourful Doukhobor textiles, he developed his intense love of colour and pattern. He confronted many challenges and difficulties, especially in the early years when struggling to farm while pursuing the ambitious dream of being an artist. Perhaps as a result he never took anything for granted and was always ready to assist others.
He is mourned by his wife, Dorothy Knowles; his daughters Rebecca (Scott Minton), Catherine (Graham Fowler) and Carol (fiancé Mark Simpson); his sister Elizabeth; his grand-children Molly Minton, Charles Fowler and Stephanie Fowler as well as nephews and nieces. William was predeceased by his father, Wasili Perehudoff; mother, Stella; brothers Samuel and Joseph as well as brothers-in-law Douglas Knowles, Paulden (Dodie) Knowles, Robert Knowles, John Cheveldayoff; sister-in-law Elsie Perehudoff and great niece Angela Perehudoff.