Tom Forrestall, RCA, 1936 –

Tom Forrestall has been one of Canada’s leading
Magic Realism painters for more than 50 years


Thomas DeVany Forrestall was born in 1936 in Nova Scotia and took art classes at the Nova Scotia College of Art in Halifax.

Tom Forrestall attended Mount Allison University, and studied art with Lawren P. Harris and Alex Colville. Classmates included Christopher Pratt and Mary Pratt

Tom Forrestall also met his wife, art student Natalie LeBlanc, at the university. The two would marry in 1958 and would raise six children; his paintings are dedicated to Natalie, who passed away in 2006.

After graduating in 1958, Tom Forrestall received one of the first Canada Council grants, and this allowed him to travel in Europe. When he returned, he worked for a short time as the assistant curator of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, N.B. before turning to painting full time.

Since then, Tom Forrestall has held numerous solo, group and retrospective exhibits, and his art has been recognized inside and outside Canada.

Alex Colville a Major Influence

Influences have included his teacher Alex Colville, who introduced Tom Forrestall to egg tempera, and the 19th century French painter Georges Seurat, the father of pointillism.

The Canadian artist is considered to be part of an informal movement that sprung up in the 1960s that put Maritime artists and art on the map, and included Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt and Mary Pratt.

Tom Forrestall’s art has been called “Magic Realism,” noted for its detailed depictions of East Coast scenes, landscapes, dwellings, animals and people. This style has also been called Atlantic Realism.

Over the years, Tom Forrestall’s art has favoured watercolours and egg tempera, though he has also filled hundreds of sketch books and attached stories to his art.

Tom Forrestall has explained in interviews that he has always seen his plein air watercolour paintings and his studio egg tempera paintings as distinct from each other.

Watercolours and Egg Tempera Paintings

“Watercolours are I would say the most pleasurable, the most enjoyable side of painting for me,” he said, explaining he could use all his senses when painting on the spot. “Whereas the egg tempera done in the studio are the most satisfying.”

His egg tempera works are also notable for the unusual shapes of the painting surfaces and frames – circles, ovals, triangles, rectangles with uneven sides and even more unusual shapes – as Tom Forrestall is one of the few Canadian painters to think outside the confines of rectangular canvases.

“The shapes do have a dynamic,” he said in the same interview from 2010. “The shapes evolve because I feel a particular image, a particular idea I have in mind, needs a certain shape.”

2010 marked the year The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, mounted a major retrospective spanning 50 years of Tom Forrestall’s art.

A Car for All Seasons

In 2013-14, Tom Forrestall painted his vintage, 1980 Mercedes-Benz sedan, depicting the four seasons on its hood, side panels, trunk, hood and wheels, in a project that became aptly known as A Car for All Seasons. A Halifax Mercedes-Benz dealership became the painter’s studio, and visitors could see Tom Forrestall adding to his work in progress.

Tom Forrestall’s artwork has been exhibited and is represented in every major public collection in the region and beyond, including numerous solo exhibitions in prominent galleries worldwide.

Sources: Canadian Encyclopedia, online entry; McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, News Release dated Jan. 18, 2010; Art Gallery of Nova Scotia website.

Suggested viewing: Tom Forrestall at the Michael Collection of Canadian Art, 2010, YouTube Video; A Car for All Seasons, 2014, YouTube Video.