Unsung Local Artist: Hans Lankau

Updated: November 22, 2016

The image from 1972 was added.

CIBC Bronze at Birks2

Bronze formerly located at entry to Canadian Bank of Commerce (SE corner, Granville and Hastings). Today it is what appears to be a little used tiny foyer leading to a staircase in the Birks building (not the main entry to Birks; one door east of the main Hastings entry). 2016. Author’s photo.

Hans Gottfried Edita Lankau (1897-1971) was born and raised in Germany. He immigrated to post-war Canada in 1951 when he was in his mid-50s, settling in West Vancouver. His principal work in Canada consisted of casting large coats of arms in metal. The Bank of Commerce example which appears above (the only work of his of which I’m aware that is extant in Greater Vancouver) appears to be a coat of arms plus. It seems to me to be similar to a piece of jazz music: the straight-ahead theme is in the coat of arms (encircled in the middle of the work), with improvisations surrounding it. It is, in my judgement, a brilliant piece of relief sculpture.

There was another, later (1965), coat of arms in Vancouver by Lankau, commissioned by the former Bank of Canada at 900 West Hastings. But Lankau’s specialization of coats of arms tends to lead to even more speedy disappearance of the art than happens with other kinds of public artwork in Vancouver. Once the corporation leaves the site of the coat of arms, the arms, generally speaking, are doomed. (This wasn’t the case, technically, with the Bank of Commerce work, but it was squirrelled away into such a non-travelled corner of the new Birk’s headquarters as to be gone in all but fact).

Lankau’s other work is listed here. Just how much of it is extant, I don’t know. Little, I suspect. A giant piece of biographical mystery is his pre-Canadian training and works.

One of Lankau’s sculptures that remains  in B.C. is the Canadian Coat of Arms at Confederation Court in Victoria. The Dictionary of Canadian Artists tries to make a case for Lankau’s Victoria work being deserving of the highest marks. The Confederation Park work may have been the more technically challenging of the two works. But in my opinion, the Bank of Commerce bronze is by far the most visually stunning of Lantau’s work in the province he adopted as home.]


CVA 70-23 – Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building, 640 West Hastings Street, doorway. 1972. Art Grice photo. Here is the artwork in a more deservedly prominent location above the main entry to the building (when it was a CIBC structure).

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