Karsh widow donates photographs to Ottawa

Widow of famous photographer Yousuf Karsh has donated a remarkable gift to mark her husband's 100th birthday.

Nine prints by the internationally renowned photographer Yousuf Karsh were donated on Tuesday to the City of Ottawa by his widow, Estrellita Karsh.

Karsh was surprised to learn that the city where her husband had been a longtime resident had none of his work in its collections.

"I had no idea there was nothing in the print or art collection of the city until I was told and we were very happy to remedy that," she said.

Tuesday was declared Yousuf Karsh Day by the city, which presents an award named after Karsh and his brother every year to an Ottawa artist who shows outstanding artistic work in photography.

Included in the gift are a rare portrait of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Karsh's iconic image of Winston Churchill.

Also included were pictures of writers Robertson Davies and Stephen Leacock, artists Frederick Varley, Jack Bush, Kenojuak Ashevak and a self-portrait.

The city's fine arts manager Johnathan Browns welcomed the rare pictures to the collection. "They came from California and it was really quite wonderful to open them up and see them," he said.

"To see them in person, to see the tonalities that he uses, the tonality of light, it's pretty impressive."

The Karsh prints will be lent out to municipal buildings so that everyone can see them, Browns said.

Karsh worked in a studio on Sparks Street and later in Chateau Laurier. During his 60-year career, he took portraits of famous people ranging from Nelson Mandela to Audrey Hepburn. Karsh died in 2002.

Ottawa is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the photographer's birth this year with Festival Karsh, a collaboration of the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Portrait Gallery of Canada from June 12 to Sept. 13. The festival includes the Karsh: Image Maker exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

The images donated on Tuesday are currently on display at the Karsh-Masson gallery in the Byward Market until July 26. Karsh's work is also on exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

With files from the CBC's Kate Porter