William Ronald graduated from the Ontario College of Art in Toronto in 1951, having studied under Jock MacDonald. The following year, he travelled to New York, where he learned from the great abstract expressionist painter Hans Hofmann. On his return to Toronto in 1953, he became a founding member of the Painters Eleven collective, the pioneer movement of Modernism in Canada. The group’s first exhibition, in 1954, was also the first major commercial display of abstract art in Toronto. Ronald exhibited with the group on that occasion, and in New York in 1956.
In 1955 he had the good fortune of being introduced to Robert Hale, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Martin Baldwin, director of the Art Gallery of Toronto (as the AGO was then known). Hale had an extensive network in the Big Apple’s art milieu, inclusion in which thankfully moved Ronald onto the fast track, after he moved back to the city a second time. The Museum of Modern Art acquired one of his paintings. Then, Ingeborg de Beausacq, a French countess who lived in New York, bought Ronald’s Bastille (1956)—a huge oil with a great red centrepiece—and threw a party in his honour. There he met art dealer Sam Kootz, who gave Ronald his first solo exhibition, in 1957. The Kootz Gallery show featured Bastille, Pyramid (1956, presented here), and more than a dozen other large works.
In Pyramid, Ronald replaced his typical black central figure—found in many of his 1956 canvases, such as J’accuse, Central Black, and Drumbeat—with, as Iris Nowell puts it, “Three slightly amorphous shapes: a red one suggesting a pyramid, and behind it a rich ultramarine shape against a large red squarish one.”
The year 1956 was a pivotal one for Ronald. Works from this important time in his career can be found in numerous major museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and others.