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A.J. Casson, Algonquin Park (Sampson Matthews silkscreen)

In conjunction with our popular February Online Auction of Works on Paper, Prints & Books, Cowley Abbott is delighted to present a special second session auction offering a selection of works from the Archives of Sampson-Matthews Ltd., which includes a variety of rare silkscreens from the Sampson-Matthews Silkscreen Project.

A niche collecting market within Canadian art, Sampson-Matthews silkscreens are bold and iconic images of the Canadian landscape and regional ways of life. Produced with high quality oil pigments, the silkscreens have stood the test of time. The vibrant colour and drama of these artworks, created by leading historical Canadian artists, provides an excellent opportunity for collectors to build their collection with the commanding imagery of Sampson-Matthews.

A lion in the printmaking industry, Sampson-Matthews was founded by Ernest Sampson, a pioneer of silkscreen printing in Canada, and Charles Matthews. The firm was a frequent stop for many artists working in the graphic arts and printmaking realms of art. Celebrated Canadian artists, such as A.Y. Jackson, A.J. Casson, and Franklin Carmichael all collaborated with the firm.

Joseph Sidney Hallam, The Log Drive (Sampson Matthews silkscreen)

One of the largest art projects in Canadian art history, the Sampson-Matthews Silkscreen Project was a defining moment in establishing the concept of ‘Canadian Art’ and a massive morale booster during the Second World War. As Joyce Zemans writes, this project was “largely responsible for shaping our notion of Canadian art and Canadian identity” (Zemans, 7). The pre-eminent printmaking firm in Canada, Sampson-Matthews Ltd., was the natural choice for a national art project.

Spearheaded by A.Y. Jackson in 1942, the project was designed primarily for military use and evolved into an educational program with the goal to make Canadian art accessible. Moreover, the project was designed to promote a national identity, as Canada was still a young country. As a war-artist during the First World War, Jackson saw first-hand not only the horrors of war, but the way in which the military was inextricably linked to national and cultural identity.

Jackson proposed that this project be targeted for military distribution to bases across Canada and throughout the world, eventually to expand into schools and social clubs. Over the course of the 30-year project, 118 images were produced by Sampson-Matthews, thirty-six of which were part of the wartime series. Thirty-six prints were produced after the Second World War in partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, and an additional fifteen images were produced with Sampson-Matthews after the National Gallery of Canada ceased their partnership in 1955. All of the prints were designed with between ten to twenty oil-based colours and to reflect Canadian life and the landscape, with geographic representation from across the country. 

Joseph Ernest Sampson, Gaspe (Sampson Matthews silkscreen)

Jackson, understanding the harsh realities for artists during periods of war and the limited opportunities for sustainable work, sought to involve both young and established artists in the project, as a way to promote their work and create jobs. In late 1943, the first series of twenty-five works were completed in a large format, measuring 30 x 40 inches. A smaller size was later produced for certain images to offer economical options for the public.

On the production side of the project, Chuck (Charles) Matthews and A.J. Casson oversaw the printing of the works. Collectors will sometimes find Casson’s signature in ballpoint pen in the lower corner or at the edge of a work, signifying that the artist personally oversaw the print’s production. 

Images from thirty-nine prominent Canadian artists were selected, including works by: Franklin Arbuckle, Harold Beament, Bertram Binning, Fritz Brandtner, Emily Carr, A.J. Casson, Paraskeva Clark, Albert Cloutier, Alan Collier, Charles Comfort, Rody Kenny Courtice, Berthe Des Clayes, Arthur Ensor, Frederick Stanley Haines, Joseph Sydney Hallam, Lawren Harris, Hilton Hassell, Yvonne McKague Housser, Jack Humphrey, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, Thoreau MacDonald, Isabel McLaughlin, James Wilson Morrice, L.A.C. Panton, Ruth May Pawson, Walter J. Phillips, Arthur Donald Price, Tom Roberts, Sarah Robertson, Albert Henry Robinson, Joseph Ernest Sampson, Tom Thomson, Stanley Francis Turner, Sydney Hollinger Watson, Horace Watson Wickenden and Dorothy Williams.

W.J. Phillips, Mount Eisenhower (Sampson Matthews silkscreen)

Through an international promotional campaign, thousands of prints found their way to the U.K., Germany, American bases, and even Russia. In 1943, Colonel C.R. Hill, Director of Special Services, noted that: “From a morale standpoint, these pictures have tremendous value. Perhaps particularly in the case of men who have been away from Canada for two or three years, the display of Canadian scenes will make them conscious of the land and cause for which they are called upon to fight. To those men who are still in Canada but who have to live under camp conditions, the pictures will bring a touch of beauty badly needed to counter act the dullness of their environment” (Zemans, 13). The project was living proof of the power of art and its ability to help define nationhood and art history in a pivotal moment in Canadian history.

Prints from the Sampson-Matthews project are wonderful tokens of Canadian art history and are regularly sought after by collectors. For new collectors entering the art market, the prints offer a perfect entry point to acquire an iconic image by a recognized Canadian historical artist. With unique ties to Canadian military and political history, the prints allow insight into the country’s early endeavours to define a national identity and build unification within a bourgeoning and diverse country.

A.J. Casson, Ontario Village (Sampson Matthews silkscreen)

Cowley Abbott is pleased to be entrusted with this collection from the Archives of Sampson-Matthews Ltd., comprised of a selection of unique prints from the Sampson-Matthews Silkscreen Project, as well as Canadian historical artworks and artifacts. For more information on this forthcoming auction and project, contact our specialists at 416-479-9703 or [email protected]


Joyce Zemans, “Envisioning Nation: Nationhood, Identity and the Sampson-Matthews Silkscreen Project: The Wartime Prints,” Journal of Canadian Art History, Vol. 19, no. 1 (1998) pages 6-51

The Sampson-Matthews Print Collection: