"I remember when I painted my first picture, I had one aim, to paint life around me with lots of enthusiasm. Today, I am of the same opinion . . . Then, some day, you find many secrets are becoming clear to you and you realize that they are not secrets but things in nature, that they are there for you to see."
(Sam Borenstein, 1941)
Sam Borenstein applied his exuberant style to images of Montreal slums, Laurentian villages, and portraits of his family and friends. His vivid colours, distorted perspective, and sense of movement recall the works of the European masters he admired, especially Van Gogh, Vlaminck, Utrillo, and Soutine.
After an early childhood in war-torn Poland, Borenstein moved to Montreal with his father and one of his sisters in 1921. He spent two years in Ottawa as an apprentice to a furrier, then returned to Montreal, where he worked as a cutter in a garment factory. Although he had little formal training, Borenstein took evening art classes, studying sculpture with Elzéar Soucy and drawing with Adam Sheriff Scott and John Y. Johnstone, and associating with local artists Alexandre Bercovitch, Fritz Brandter, Herman Heimlich, and Louis Muhlstock. His first solo exhibition took place in 1934 at the Coffee House café in Montreal. During a six-month painting trip to Brittany in 1939 Borenstein had the opportunity to see the work of the artists he had long admired, and his painting became more focused. He painted in the Laurentians from the 1940s, his exuberant, expressive paintings soon winning him wide attention.
In 1966, three years before he died, Borenstein was the subject of a retrospective exhibit at the new Art Gallery of Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University). Borenstein's work in the National Gallery includes Saint Dominique Street, Montreal (1942) and Rooftops (1943).