See unseen and rediscovered art from Canada's best fashion illustrator

How an art detective's hunt lead to a collection of work by Irwin ‘Bud’ Crosthwait going on sale in London.


Long lost work by Canadian artist Irwin ‘Bud’ Crosthwait is to go on show in September, after an intriguing investigation by British art dealer Gray MCA managed to piece together a discarded and forgotten collection of artwork.

A rough fashion sketch handed to Exhibition curator Connie Gray sparked intrigue when she realised that the faint signature on it was that of one of Canada’s most respected fashion artists.

Image: Untitled Abstract I , C.1970, by Irwin Crosthwait

Crosthwait (1914 – 1981) had attended the prestigious Art School Pratt Institute in New York before designing fashion adverts for the well- known Canadian retail chain known today as ‘Bay’. 

His reputation won his appointment as an official War Artist serving with the Canadian Navy. 

Following honourable release from service, Crosthwait settled in Paris and began his career as a fashion illustrator.

He was to become a household name among the leading fashion publications of the period and a favourite with the haute couture houses.

Images: HMCS Warrior, 946 (above) and Rond Point Paris, 1959 (below)


Connie Gray's research took an exciting turn when she learnt that boxes left out for rubbish had been discovered by a Parisian couple living near the studio where Crosthwait had worked (pictured), as his reputation as a top fashion illustrator took off.

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The abandoned boxes contained sketches, photographs and letters, as well as original works from the artist’s time as a war artist with the Canadian Navy between 1944-1947.

These were the first of Crosthwait’s original war works of the period that Gray MCA had seen; the only other known surviving war works being in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Within the collection were stunning sketches of his local  stamping ground around Montmartre and drawings of the artist’s life in Paris.

Image: Sur Le Bord De La Seine, 1951


Having no connection to Crosthwait, and no knowledge of who he was, the couple made contact with friends of the artist detailed in the letters and luckily were able to reach the daughter of Crosthwait’s old family friends in Canada. 

Gray MCA found further evidence of Crosthwait’s work, across Paris on the banks of the Seine, safely stored for many years with the widow of 60s haute couture fashion designer Marc Vaughan.

Image: Marc Vaughan, 1975


Marc Vaughan’s widow, Madam Audart, not only held a collection of original Crosthwait fashion illustrations, but also housed some of the best examples of large-scale original abstract works by the artist.

The paintings had been purchased at Crosthwait’s exhibitions in Paris in the late 1950s and 60s, when Crosthwait’s Modernist works were exhibited worldwide alongside the great Abstract Expressionists, such as Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Stael and Robert Jacobsen and his close friend Victor Vasarely.

Aside from admiring and collecting Crosthwait’s paintings, Marc Vaughan also commissioned him to illustrate his couture collections and over time they became great friends.

Image: Marc Vaughan III, 1968

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The trail didn’t stop there, a visit to Crosthwait’s original muse Ursula Frey in Switzerland unveiled more surprises.

Frey had been Crosthwait’s friend since childhood and became his trusted muse and model in the 1960s, featuring in almost all of his fashion commissions for magazines such as Harpers Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, New York Times and for designers such as Dior, Pucci, Givenchy and Yves St. Laurent.

From under the bed in her Basel home she pulled out two enormous portfolios of fashion illustrations that hadn’t been seen for more than 45 years.

Image: Mondrian Dress, Yves St Laurent 1965


Still in Switzerland, Connie Gray also met Stefanie Soar, whose father Peter Wallner had been a great friend of Crosthwait’s and was called upon to help, when the artist developed dementia towards the end of his life.

The two men holidayed over many years in Menzonia, Switzerland where Crosthwait had a home and studio.

Stefanie Soar was in possession of a collection of Crosthwait’s abstract works, which will also feature in the exhibition.


A selection of these works will be among those going into what will be the most extensive selling exhibition of Crosthwait’s works by Gray MCA, from Thursday 17-Tuesday 22 September, 2015, during London Fashion Week.

Image: Nina, 1969

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Image: St Emica, 1977


Image: Model in Sweater, 1969


Image: UF05

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Image: Marc Vaughan Wedding Dress, 1966


Image: Model Seated, 1965


Image: Two Models, study

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Image: Abstract II (above), Embrace, 1968 (below)


Image: Gentleman with trenchcoat, 1950s


Image: Model in rollneck sweater

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