Who Knew Julian Porter Could Write?

By Allan Fotheringham
Toronto Sun, January 1, 2014

One of the advantages of growing old is that as age and fate roll by, an acquaintance may pop out of the mob and soar aloft to acclaim and fame.

Such is the circumstance that has produced a remarkable book, the finest one to be printed in Canada in the just-completed year.

Julian Porter may have been thinking of the Guinness Book of Records when he titled it, 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe (So You Can Ignore the Others), but he was serious.

(Toronto newspapers, when mentioning Julian, always add “husband of publisher Anna Porter.” Eons ago, when I was writing a column at the Vancouver Sun, I received the shortest letter ever written. “Dear Mr. Fotheringham. I think you have a book in you. Next time in Toronto, call me for lunch. Anna Porter.”

I obeyed and from 1982 to 2001 my six books bore the label of her Key Porter joint).

To produce this book, Julian visited 60 galleries in 21 cities. The airlines love him.

After more than 40 years of gallery visits, he has read all the major books on art history and criticism published over the past 75 years.

In 1955, during his last year at his Toronto high school, he started work as a tour guide in Europe.

Every summer after that, for seven years, he travelled to Europe with Canadian high school students, showing them the grand sites, the famous cities, and, of course, the galleries.

He has returned every year, either alone or with his growing family, with friends or small groups of lawyers, or with larger groups of acquaintances.

In real life, Julian Porter is the libel lawyer for Maclean’s magazine, where I toiled on the back page for 27 years. Some readers apparently were not amused with my wisdom there and with my syndicated newspaper column, and the result was 26 libel suits.

With Julian’s help, I won 24 of them. We got to know each other well.

In his book, the reproductions of classic paintings over 426 pages are in stunning colour.

He writes, “I have picked them because they are, in my opinion, representative of the best paintings by artists from Giotto to Picasso. I have selected this period, between 1298 and 1937, because Giotto’s work profoundly influenced the development of Renaissance art, where figures stepped out of the gold backgrounds of iconography and acquired weight, force and personality. I stopped where Picasso launched into abstraction. With Picasso, the modern era of painting begins.”

And so we have Titian’s nude Venus, which so frightened Mark Twain. And Rembrandt, who painted 83 self-portraits until he died at 63.

And Turner, England’s greatest artist. He could capture nature in all her moods, by paint, watercolour, or pastel. He painted “impressionist” pictures 50 years before the French impressionists did.

Julian, a kid from Toronto, had no worries about political borders.

He shows us classical work from St. Petersburg in mighty Russia and wonderful paintings from Poland and the Czech Republic.

The book’s first printing has sold out completely and is headed for a second.

This department can guarantee one complete certainty for 2014.

Not a single Toronto newspaper will ever again describe Julian as “husband of Anna Porter.”

— Fotheringham, among other talents, is a former Toronto Sun columnist