“If you come from art, you’ll always be art” – David Bowie
Attracting attention from collectors around the globe, David Bowie’s DHead XLVI fetched $108,120 CAD during the Cowley Abbott Spring International Art Auction, which closed on Thursday, June 24th. The small portrait, which was purchased at a donation centre in Northern Ontario for $5, drew bids from clients located across Canada and well beyond our borders, finally selling for almost ten times the pre-sale auction estimate of $9,000-12,000, establishing a new global auction record for an artwork by David Bowie.
David Robert Jones, known more commonly as David Bowie, was an icon of the music industry and of twentieth century pop culture. Like many musicians, Bowie studied art and design as a young man, which would foster a love of fine art throughout his lifetime. He was also a passionate collector and painter, heavily influenced by the modernist art trends of the twentieth century; his paintings possess the stylistic influences of the German expressionists, Francis Bacon and the London School of painters. Bowie’s own work rarely appears at auction, so when Cowley Abbott was contacted about a painting entitled D Head XLVI, there was a cautious excitement.
D Head XLVI was found in the most unexpected place: a donation centre for household goods in South River, Ontario. The chance discovery of this treasure within a pile of discarded goods is quite remarkable. The consignor of the painting was astonished upon viewing a label which read “David Bowie” and realizing it was the signature of the artist inscribed on the reverse. After conducting thorough research, which included correspondence with a David Bowie specialist in the United Kingdom, we were able to confirm that the painting is indeed by the famous artist and part of a series that he completed in the 1990s.
Between 1995 and 1997 Bowie created a series of approximately forty-seven works on canvas which he entitled Dead Heads (or D Head). Each title included a non-sequential Roman numeral. The sitters ranged from band members, friends and acquaintances and there were also some self-portraits. It has been suggested that, for some of these important paintings, Bowie drew inspiration from the Ziggy Stardust era. With long hair and a pronounced profile, this energetic and enigmatic portrait is truly a rare representation from a celebrated artist (we can attempt to surmise who the sitter is, however, unfortunately the label does not confirm their identity.)
Cowley Abbott was pleased to be entrusted with such an exciting artwork and delighted to share the painting and its story with collectors in the weeks leading to the auction. The story was carried by media outlets around the world, our firm’s excitement matched by Bowie fans and art collectors globally.
An Unprecedented 94% Sell-Through Rate and Numerous Auction Records Achieved at the Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art
Cowley Abbott Continues to Realize Exceptional Results for Canadian Artworks with Hundreds of Bidders Competing via Telephone, Online and Absentee at Auction
The Cowley Abbott Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art on June 9th was brilliantly executed and exceeded expectations. A phenomenal 94% sell-through rate was achieved, several auction records were smashed and 65% of the artworks sold surpassed the high-end of the estimate. The historical, post-war and contemporary art offerings by illustrious Canadian artists attracted a high level of engagement from collectors. The live auction invited hundreds of bidders and thousands of bids via absentee, telephone and online and was executed flawlessly from start to finish.
Our firm has continued to adapt, evolve and grow with the changing climate of the auction industry during the global Covid-19 pandemic. Our combination of innovative and industry leading technology, combined with professional customer service and a sincere passion for art has ensured that we remain engaged with the Canadian art community through every possible avenue.
The monumental cover lot, Amber Pass by Ivan Eyre, made its auction debut during the evening sale, surpassing the pre-sale estimate after much spirited bidding to realize $228,000. This canvas is a prime example of Eyre’s large-scale landscapes and was met with avid interest from the moment of the publication of the catalogue. Acquired directly from the collection of the artist, this captivating painting is a fantastic addition for an astute art collector.
Cowley Abbott was pleased to be entrusted with two works by the accomplished Alberta-born contemporary artist, Kim Dorland. Green Tree Blue Tree, a commanding oil, acrylic and spray paint on wood panel painting, which was included in the 2013 McMichael Canadian Art Collection exhibition, You are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting, soared to a new auction record of $66,000. Untitled, another painting by Dorland that explores Canada’s long-established tradition of landscape painting also found a new home selling for $18,000. Records were further smashed by another Canadian contemporary artist, John Hartman, as The Old Port and Mount Royal exceeded pre-sale expectations to sell for $24,000.
The auction house was delighted to offer an early painting by Franklin Carmichael, Orillia (1915), for the first time at auction. The impressionistic winter scene originally belonged to the family of the artist and was passed down to the current Ontario private collection. This charming painting was completed prior to the formation of the Group of Seven and, as anticipated, feverish bidding ensued when the lot opened for bidding, eventually hammering down at $144,000.
A rare and early canvas by celebrated artist A.Y. Jackson, which was extensively exhibited and belonged to the painter’s brother, garnered ample attention in the weeks leading to the auction to extend to $90,000 in the evening auction. October Morning, Épisy was painted “en plein-air” by Jackson in 1909, and the composition showcases his mastery of light at the age of 27, more than a decade before the Group of Seven would be formed. This canvas was complemented by four other exquisite oil sketches by Jackson offered in the auction, which were all admired and achieved success.
Historical Canadian art demanded attention at this auction, as fierce bidding was ignited between telephone and online bidders for a nostalgic landscape painting by Homer Watson. This detailed 30 x 40-inch canvas commanded a final value of $38,400. A distinctive and self-assured work by David Milne executed in watercolour circa 1913 was a favourite amongst clients, achieving $33,600. The beautiful Portrait of Louise by Cornelius Krieghoff, an intimate and tender portrait of the artist’s wife, found a new home at $18,000, while the first lot in the auction by the distinguished J.W. Beatty, Farm Machinery, possibly executed while the artist was an official war artist in France of 1918, sold for $11,400. Further interest for historical artworks was displayed with a vibrant oil by Arthur Lismer, Fisherman’s Gear, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia achieving $24,000, while fellow Group member, the renowned Lawren Harris, drew attention with the offer of an important drawing executed in 1930 while on a trip with A.Y. Jackson. Arctic Tent, Pangnirtung, Baffin Island is one of a number of preparatory sketches produced by the artist while on this trip, with only three oil sketches of an Inuit tent within a landscape later painted. This rare work on paper sold for $20,400.
Further records were shattered at the evening auction, with appreciation shown for Prudence Heward of The Beaver Hall Group. A leading figure painter in the 1920s and 1930s, Heward’s Mrs. Decco (1940) was extensively exhibited in the 1940s and was originally acquired from the estate of the artist. This powerful portrait attracted attention from collectors from the instant the catalogue was produced and ascended to $90,000, setting a new auction record for the artist.
Cowley Abbott was pleased to be entrusted with numerous works by accomplished Canadian female artists, of which many experienced vigorous bidding during the June 9th auction. Notably, four paintings by Maud Lewis were met with enthusiasm, with competitive bidding taking place between absentee, telephone and online bidders. White Kitten in a Tea Cup, a rare and witty work by the beloved Maritime artist reached $38,400, quickly followed by At the Train Station selling for $44,440 and Surprised Deer for $28,800. The surprise of the evening was Flowers in Red Pot, painted around 1967, one of a small number of flower pot paintings executed by Maud Lewis, which broke the auction record for the artist by selling for $48,000. The results accomplished by Maud Lewis were remarkable, with the price realized of three of these works being the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by Maudie.
Molly Lamb Bobak Cafeteria, a rare and intimate portrayal of the activities at home during the Second World War, sold for $7,200. An additional popular work by Bobak, Flowers 4, hammered down at $10,200. Pegi Nicol MacLeod, another artist from Eastern Canada, received ample attention in the lead up to the auction. Bunks, a striking watercolour completed while an official war artist during the Second World War fetched $7,200, while the energetic and ebullient Centennial Parade (Fredericton) attained $18,000.
The Spring Live Auction witnessed solid prices for a wide range of post-war works of art, including the art of Jack Bush: Girl with Red Hair blasted through the pre-sale estimate to reach $48,000; The Red Square, originally in the collection of the artist, sold for $10,800; and House on the Highway completed in 1947 sold for $7,800. Perhaps the most interesting work by the artist included in the June 9th auction was Untitled (circa 1958), which hammered down at $27,600. This brightly coloured gouache made its debut at auction with Cowley Abbott and was painted during a key period when Bush was breaking away from figurative painting to embrace abstraction. What is particularly notable about this work is the fact that it was a gift from Jack Bush to fellow Painters Eleven member, William Ronald. As recounted by his widow, Helen Ronald, the two artists met up one day in 1958 so that Bush could show Ronald the new direction he was taking in his painting. During this encounter, Bush presented the colourful gouache on paper to his friend as a gift. Ronald was so impressed and touched by the artwork that he held onto it for the remainder of his life.
A key highlight in the auction were two exceptional paintings by William Kurelek. One painting was originally owned by the estate of the artist, Haystacks and Ducks (Ukrainian Series). This was one of the final paintings completed by the artist, a rare discovery, which sold for $55,200. In the 1973 The Grouse Mountain Sky Ride, Kurelek depicts the summer activities of the popular Vancouver ski destination, Grouse Mountain Resort. This mixed media on board was favoured amongst collectors, selling for $60,000.
A variety of post-war offerings also drew competitive bidding during the spring catalogue sale, breaking auction records. Midsummer Dawn, Percé by the Scottish-born Canadian artist Charles Comfort was completed in 1977 on one of his trips to Quebec. This outstanding depiction of an iconic landmark soared through an auction record previously set by Cowley Abbott for the artist, to achieve $43,200. Doug Morton, of Regina Five fame, was represented in the sale by Two with Grey (1965). The vivid colours which energize the pictorial space of this masterful work caught the attention of many, setting an auction record for the artist at $26,400.
Multiple distinctive sculptures by Sorel Etrog were featured in the auction, a significant sculptor known for his dynamic and elegant creations. Cowley Abbott was thrilled to be entrusted with six phenomenal works by the artist: the sophisticated and stoic sculpture of Manon, standing at just under five feet was met with lively bidding to $102,000. Steady interest from collectors was apparent for four diminutive bronze works by Etrog, including Solo Study for $22,800, La Mer Study for $9,600, Study for Madonna Bust for $9,000 and Magic Barrel for $6,600. The expressive Homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, with its contained emotion and marked reverence for the revolutionary figure attained $33,600.
We extend our thanks to the collectors, clients, bidders and buyers who helped to ensure that our Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art was a triumph. We look forward to continuing to provide the highest level of engagement and service to collectors in the industry and are currently accepting consignments for our forthcoming live and online auctions. If you feel our firm can be of service, we would be pleased to provide a complimentary and confidential consultation. Please contact our specialists at 1-866-931-8415 or [email protected].
Cowley Abbott is privileged to be working with the Estate of William Ronald in the offering of artwork from the artist’s collection at auction. There are currently two Cowley Abbott auctions with artwork and items from the estate: one artwork in the June live auction and a separate William Ronald estate online auction.
We are delighted to begin this collaboration with the offering of Jack Bush’s Untitled (circa 1958) in the upcoming June 9th Live Auction of Important Canadian Art, marking the artwork’s debut at auction. The brightly coloured gouache was a gift from Bush to his fellow Painters Eleven member William Ronald. The two Toronto-based artists were prominent figures in the formation of the influential artists’ group in the 1950s. Painters Eleven helped to introduce abstract painting into the mainstream of Canadian art, which, until that point, had been dominated by the aesthetic of the Group of Seven.
Untitled (circa 1958) was painted during a key period when Bush was breaking completely from figurative painting to embrace abstraction. During the spring of 1958, Bush visited New York City and saw the work of William Ronald at the Kootz Gallery. Ronald moved to New York shortly after the formation of Painters Eleven in 1955 and began exhibiting with Samuel Kootz in 1957. Prior to this, Ronald arranged to have Painters Eleven invited to exhibit in the annual exhibition of the American Association of Abstract Artists at the Riverside Museum in New York City. This exposure would introduce Ronald, Bush and their peers to a wider audience and give them an international standing.
Ronald became friendly with fellow abstract painters of the New York School including Mark Rothko and Franz Kline. The art critic Clement Greenberg introduced both artists to many leading Abstract Expressionists and early Color-Field painters, and praised the work of Painters Eleven. As recounted by Helen Ronald, the two painters met up one day in 1958 so that Bush could show Ronald the new direction he was taking in his painting–one that was encouraged by Greenberg. Helen remarked: “Bill was surprised that Jack still cared about his opinion, especially as he felt there may have been some lingering hard feelings over his resignation from Painters Eleven the previous year.” During this encounter, Bush presented the colourful gouache on paper Untitled (circa 1958) to his friend as a gift. Helen adds “I remember Bill describing how enthusiastic Jack was about his new direction in painting and how much he appreciated Bill’s arranging for Greenberg to visit Painters Eleven. Bill then showed me the impressive, beautiful work on paper which we’re now calling the “Gouache for William Ronald” by Jack Bush. It was totally different than any of the many paintings by Jack that I’d seen before. It made an indelible impression.”
While Ronald gave away most of the artworks he collected throughout his life, he was so touched by the Jack Bush gouache that he held onto it for the rest of his life. Helen Ronald believes the time has come to pass the work on to a new owner, stating: “At this time in my life, I’m organizing my archive for the future. I’m pleased to say that it’s now time for someone else to take care of this beautiful work of Jack’s.” Cowley Abbott is fortunate to be offering this painting with such a unique and interesting provenance; it is rare to come across an artwork that was a gift between two famous artists. Untitled (circa 1958) will be included in the forthcoming “Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné”.
Cowley Abbott has a strong record at auction for the work of Jack Bush, including most recently the 1965 canvas Column on Browns which sold for $870,000 in December 2020. We continue to introduce rare and important examples of his work to the market, which have been consistently selling to advantage. We eagerly await this season’s live auction on June 9th, with much anticipation for the Jack Bush gouache on paper, among many other important Canadian artworks.
Cowley Abbott has commissioned a newly written biography of the art career of William Ronald containing previously unknown information sourced from the archives of The Estate of William Ronald. The biography can be found on Cowley Abbott’s website by following this link.
In addition to the offering of the Jack Bush gouache in the June live auction, Cowley Abbott is also hosting the online auction, From the Estate of William Ronald, with bidding open between May 18th and June 1st. The auction includes artwork and ephemera acquired by William Ronald as gifts and trades with artists, galleries, friends and for his charitable work, the grouping providing a glimpse into the taste and community of William Ronald. This eclectic themed auction gives art collectors the first opportunity ever to purchase items from the personal collection of this influential artist.
Our March 2021 Online Auction of Indigenous and Inuit Artwork offers a fantastic opportunity for collectors to diversify their collections with important works from renowned artists.
Indigenous Art encompasses a variety of styles, practices and techniques from living cultures based outside of European, or Eurocentric traditions. Indigenous Art is the longest living art form in Canada, a highly dynamic form of art grown out of cultural continuity and expression, drawing upon themultilayered voices of people who have inhabited these lands for generations. Art is an integral part of the preservation and expression of culture, and Indigenous Art celebrates the heritage and traditions of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
Cowley Abbott is pleased to present a unique selection of commanding artworks by Indigenous artists, which reflect the customs and culture of the Indigenous in an array of art forms from sculpture, to textiles, to print works.
Bill Reid, “Eagle”
The fusion of Haida traditions with a modernist technique is quintessential to Bill Reid’s artwork, resulting in the creation of exquisite works ranging from the diminutive to the monumental. Reid mastered several media, including carving in silver, gold, wood and argillite, referring to himself as “a maker of things” rather than an artist. He crafted objects of adornment that were variations on traditional crest designs or identity symbols, such as this delicately carved pendant. “Eagle” exemplifies Reid’s mission to express the visual traditions of his ancestors in a contemporary form, mastering his complexity of three-dimensional forms. Reid had studied the culture and myths of the Haida in the course of his research, adapting carving designs and works illustrated in anthropological literature, seeking to reference the fundamental techniques of historical Haida art. The figure of the Eagle is an important being in the oral history of the Haida, respected for its intelligence and power as a hunter.
“Eagle” is an elegantly executed Haida-inspired design, related to a 1969 fossil ivory work, “Eagle Pendant” (Collection of Sherrard Grauer). As noted by Karen Duffek, “A pendant of fossil ivory made in 1969 presents the Eagle in a manner still related to past imagery but already hinting at Reid’s forthcoming carving, ‘The Raven Discovering Mankind in a Clamshell’ (1970, Museum of Anthropology, UBC). It is primarily in the finely carved feathers, the arched wings, and the configuration of two-dimensional elements that a continuity of image can be seen.
”Norval Morrisseau, “Thunderbird Young”
Ground-breaking artist Norval Morrisseau, born in 1931 in Sandy Point Reserve, Ontario, worked beyond European- based conventions and drew from Anishinaabe cultural traditions to develop his powerful and unique artistic vision.Morrisseau was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts since 1970 and is celebrated founder of the Woodland School, which revitalized Anishinaabe iconography, traditionally incised on rocks and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls. A self-taught painter, printmaker, and illustrator,Morrisseau created an innovative vocabulary which was initially criticized in the Native community for its disclosure of traditional spiritual knowledge. Hiscolourful, figurative images delineated with heavy black form lines and x-ray articulations, were characteristically signed with the syllabic spelling of Copper Thunderbird, the name Morrisseau’s grandfather gave him.
“Thunderbird Young” is an excellent example of the artist’s signature kraft card artworks with emphasis on strong line, bold colour, and articulation of his cultural heritage through visual arts.
Kenojuak Ashevak “Owls in Evening Light” and “Timiatjuak”
Kenojuak Ashevak has created some of the most recognizable images in Canadian art. Images of bold graphic owls in fiery reds and ink blacks are some of the artist’s most popular works. Kenojuak embraced printmaking in the 1960s and 1970s after first beginning her drawing practice in the late 1950s in Kinngait (Cape Dorset). In 1961, she was the subject of a film produced by the National Film Board of Canada on her life and work, which was key to introducing the artist more globally. Kenojuak travelled around the world as an ambassador for Inuit art and won numerous awards and honours, including the Order of Canada, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts, and was the first Inuit artist to be inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Winnie Tatya, “Figures and Animals”
Born in 1931, Winnie Tatya is a widely exhibited and celebrated multi-disciplinary artist who is recognized for her tapestry works of figures and animals. Often using brightly coloured felt to create the figures and animals, Tatya uses complementary embroidery floss to add pattern, design and texture to the works. Graphic in nature, the wall hangings make for beautiful storytelling pieces in “classically organized compositions…all tightly embroidered with great and rewarding care.” The artist has exhibited her works with the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of the Canadian Embassy organized by Arctic Inuit Art, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Bayly Art Museum at the University of Virginia, among many others. Her work resides in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Edmonton Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the University of Alberta, and the Inuit Cultural Institute, amongst many other prominent private collections.
A variety of stone sculptures by artists such as Sheokjuk Oqutaq, Kumukuluk Saggiak, Napachie Ashoona, Thomassie Tukai and Johnny Tunnillie are featured in the current online auction and make for wonderful three-dimensional additions to create a dynamic, varied and powerful collection of artwork.
For more information on this auction, our consignment process and details regarding our upcoming September Online Auction of Indigenous and Inuit Artwork, please contact us at [email protected] and one of our specialists would be delighted to assist you.
Robert Kardosh, “Works on Cloth, Imagery by artists of Baker Lake, Nunavut,” Marion Scott Gallery, 2002, page 10
Martine J. Reid, “Bill Reid Collected”, Douglas & McIntyre/ The Bill Reid Foundation, Toronto, 2016, page 83 for related work, “Eagle Pendant” (1969)
Karen Duffek, “Beyond the Essential Form”, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1986, page 43
Peter L. Macnair, Alan L. Hoover and Kevin Neary, “The Legacy: Tradition andInnovation in Northwest Coast Indian Art”, Toronto/Vancouver, 1984, pages 85-86
One would expect that there would be a significant number of Irish Canadian artists. The heritage and influence of Irish culture is one that is paramount to the history of Canada, with numerous Irish immigrants having moved to our country through the decades. As we explore Canadian art history and the artists who have shaped visual arts, three artists emerge who share a rich Irish heritage and have a celebrated legacy.
Paul Kane, a self-taught artist of the nineteenth century, is renowned for his paintings documenting Indigenous peoples and the landscape. Kenneth Lister writes in Paul Kane, The Artist: Wilderness to Studio, that we actually don’t learn of Paul Kane’s place of birth until after his death. Kane’s birthplace of Mallow, County Cork, Ireland was revealed in the introduction of the second edition of The Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, published in 1925. Paul’s father, Michael Kane, was an Englishman who was stationed in Ireland with the R.H.A. and married an Irish girl named Frances Loach. After Michael Kane obtained his Corporal’s stripe, he and Frances settled in Ireland for a short period. Paul was born on September 3rd, 1810 and baptized in the church of St. James on September 16th, in Mallow Parish, County Cork. Interestingly Paul’s surname was listed as “Keane” in the registry.
During the 19th Century, the British colony of what would become Canada was a popular destination for explorers and individuals seeking a new life, ruled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, but was a fairly unexplored land. Around 1819, Michael and Frances Kane immigrated to Canada with their children, settling in York (Toronto). Beginning in late May 1846, Paul Kane was commissioned to travel with the Hudson’s Bay Company to document the land, the Indigenous people and their customs. His depictions of the land and its people would be some of the first images Europeans would see of Canada and its Indigenous communities.
George Hart Hughes was born on Christmas Day in Ireland in 1839. Information about the man and artist is sparse, but it is believed that Hughes started his working life as an engineer and is said to have studied under Cornelius Krieghoff, although there is no documentary proof of this. The possible influence of Krieghoff can certainly be witnessed in his compositions of moccasin sellers, habitants and trappers, informing our knowledge of historical Canadian painting.
Another Canadian artist with a connection to Ireland is Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald. His father, Lionel Henry Fitzgerald was of Irish descent. L.L. Fitzgerald was invited to join the Group of Seven, after J.E.H. MacDonald’s death, to become the tenth member in 1932. He lived and worked mainly in Manitoba; his paintings and drawings displaying a wonderful balance between natural forms and geometric shapes. Examining his work, we can see not only the influence of the American Precisionist painters (Fitzgerald studied in New York at the Arts Students League in 1921-22), but also of Lawren Harris and the later work of Bertram Brooker.
The Irish have played a vital role in the settlement and development of Canada and our culture. Artists, musicians and performers with Irish heritage have enjoyed acclaim nationally and internationally for generations, these three artists just a few of the many creators whose families arrived in Canada many years ago.
Sources: Kenneth R. Lister, Paul Kane: The Artist Wilderness to Studio, Royal Ontario Museum Press, 2010, Toronto & Dennis Reid, A Concise History of Canadian Painting, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 1988, Toronto
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Cowley Abbott is pleased to launch into the new year with our January Online Auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art. Comprised of fantastic works by blue-chip Post-War Canadian artists, practicing Contemporary artists, and hidden gems, this sale offers the opportunity for new and seasoned collectors alike to build their collections.
We’ve highlighted a few of the great artists and artworks included in this thematic sale and their significance to the canon of Canadian art history. This dynamic auction offers buyers the opportunity to inject colour, vibrancy, and modern aesthetics into their collections, while allowing a complex dialogue between works over a range of styles, themes and movements.
Ecology and The Canadian Landscape
Two works of particular note in our auction are Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s ink drawing “Untitled” and Steve Driscoll’s mixed media “Lagoon”. Integral to both artist’s practice is the effect of human contact on the landscape.
Cowichan/Syilx First Nations contemporary artist, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun is one of the most sought-after artists in contemporary Canadian art. Yuxweluptun’s strategy is to document and promote change in contemporary Indigenous history, infusing his art with Coast Salish cosmology, Northwest Coast formal design elements, and the Western landscape tradition. His work incorporates components from Northwest First Nations art, as well as evocations of the Canadian landscape painting tradition derived from the Group of Seven. The figures included in his works are not necessarily representations of real people, but instead act as a visual comment on Indigenous identity within the Canadian physical and social landscape. This diminutive work, though small in scale, exemplifies complex and weighty theories of colonization, Indigenous identity, social politics and questions Canadian national identity.
Steve Driscoll, a Toronto-based artist, is known for his mesmerizing urethan-based paintings of bold neon colours morphing and marrying into each other, creating expressive representations of the Canadian landscape. Toronto-based curator Bill Clarke explains that Driscoll’s works are “More than just re-imaginings of the landscape, his paintings, materially and conceptually, also illustrate how advancements in technology are shaping our interactions with the world and supporting innovative approaches to art-making.” “Lagoon” offers a psychedelic close-up view of the shimmering surface of a lagoon, with the abstracted currents and fauna hypnotizing the viewer. We are pleased to be entrusted with this commanding work by an important contemporary artist.
Blue Chip Post-War Art
This auction introduces wonderful examples of works by celebrated Canadian Post-War artists. Aligned with the movements of Minimalism, hard-edge abstraction, conceptual art and bold expressionism, artworks by Yves Gaucher, Gershon Iskowitz, and Roy Kiyooka present an opportunity for collectors to diversify their collections with blue-chip artists who helped shape contemporary art practices.
Yves Gaucher’s “Silences” exemplifies the artist’s minimalist approach as a rebellion to conventions of printmaking. Calm tonalities, geometric form and expanse of space provide an arena for introspection. Whereas “Untitled” by Gerson Iskowitz offers a bold expressive space, highlighting the artist’s signature exploration of colour relationships. An artist with a distinct style of his own, not fully aligning with abstraction or representation exclusively, Iskowitz produced these fresh watercolour works throughout his career as an exploration of the limits of the medium and colour relationships. The resulting organic forms bleed into one another and float ethereally across the paper.
The experimental Roy Kiyooka is represented in the auction by two distinct works. The artist’s early 1959 experimental watercolour “Abstraction”, which oscillates between abstraction and representation, is in contrast to a more contemporary 1971 conceptual gelatin silver print “StoneDGloves”. The former exemplifies the young artist’s explorations with watercolour and abstraction under the influence and tutelage of Jock MacDonald at the provincial Institute of Technology and Art. “StoneDGloves” presents a dramatic shift towards conceptual art in photography. This work was a part of a photographic series taken by the artist at the construction sites of Osaka, Japan at the time of Expo ’70. Kiyooka photographed various discarded workmen’s gloves which had been petrified in cement on worksites. The series recalls art theories of trace and ephemerality while exploring the poetic relationship of human interaction with the evolution of the landscape. The Collection of the National Gallery of Canada holds 18 photographs from this series, including this image.
Pop Colour and Aesthetics
If you are looking to add a bold splash of colour to your collection or acquire playful op-art, works by Max Johnston, John MacGregor, and Burton Kramer would be perfect additions.
Max Johnston’s “Wholeness in a Collective Compression” is an excellent example of the artist’s experimentation with the limits of paint as a medium. Moving towards sculptural application of the paint, this piece showcases Johnston’s physical language of paint on the two-dimensional plane. A vibrant technicolour display, this piece instantly inspires energy while adhering to the modernist grid.
Throughout his practice, John MacGregor has investigated the effects of time on ordinary objects. Chairs, clocks, rooms, and objects are distorted on the image plane as a characterization of bending space and time. The artist explains:
“I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. What it might be, how it is perceived, how it is represented and what it symbolizes. We live in a society that is structured and regulated by a symbol of time. We have come to accept this symbol as a valid and real expression of what time is. However, this acceptance has been at the expense of our intuitive and subjective feelings about time. Clocks have forced us to view time as detached, regimented and a structured entity that has a reality separate from ourselves. The equal intervals and numbers on the face of the clock further this perception.”
Both “Ripple Time (Multi-colour)” and “Squeezed Time” employ surrealist and op-art aesthetics of morphed and distorted objects in a play of the visual plane of depth and dimension. This manipulation of form represents the artist’s investigation of metric time as a modern social construct and the power it wields over our core functions. Playful and contemplative, the works immediately energize the viewing space and engage the viewer with their own temporal experiences.
Finally, Burton Kramer’s fresh geometric canvas entitled “Garden Music” brings forth memories of effervescent symphonies. The artist is famously known as the graphic designer for the iconic 1974 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation logo with the radiating, stylized ‘C’. Through his fine art practice, Kramer is renowned for his experiments with synesthesia of colour and music, exploring the language of visual forms and sound as the eye dances along the exuberant canvas of fresh pigments.
Cowley Abbott is delighted to be entrusted with a variety of rare and stunning works in the current Post-War and Contemporary Art Auction. The full catalogue of artworks included in our January online auction can be found here, presenting a plethora of paintings, sculpture, works on paper and innovative mixed media pieces by renowned artists. Contact our team for further details on this sale, the bidding process and how we can assist you to build your collection with Cowley Abbott.
Cowley Abbott, A Leader in the Canadian Auction Industry, Continues to Realize Strong Results for Canadian Historical, Post-War and Contemporary Art at Auction
The Cowley Abbott Fall Auction of Important Canadian Art on December 3rd was a resounding success, attaining excellent results and connecting collectors with superior artworks by renowned Canadian artists representing the country from coast to coast. In several instances, collectors participating over the telephone and online drove bidding to record levels, leading to the unprecedented values reached for select works by celebrated Canadian historical, post-war and contemporary artists.
A monumental masterwork by Jack Bush, Column on Browns, made its auction debut, soaring to a new world auction record of $870,000, after spirited bidding took place over multiple platforms. This captivating canvas was featured in major international exhibitions, including “Colorists 1950-1965” at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Sao Paulo IX Biennial in 1967. The commanding work from Bush’s golden period of the mid-1960s was met with much admiration and excitement from the moment of the publication of the catalogue and is a remarkable addition to any discerning art collection.
The auction house was delighted to be entrusted with another seminal work by Jack Bush, Summer Gone, the first triangle-shaped canvas executed by the artist as part of a series of shaped canvases in August 1976. The shape of Summer Gone is an irregular triangle with different lengths on all three sides, allowing Bush freedom from the restrictions of the traditional picture plane. Bush only created four triangle paintings, with this rare canvas selling for $90,000.
Cowley Abbott was again delighted to offer numerous works by accomplished Canadian female artists, many of which garnered energetic bidding during the Fall Auction, notably Emily Carr’s Forest Glade (Dark Glade), reaching $216,000. This painting radiates with compositional energy, eloquently capturing Carr’s deep connection to the wild, untamed beauty of the forest. Rita Letendre, an electric and dazzling painter, demanded attention with three works by the celebrated artist selling well overestimate. Untitled reached $28,000 and Manotik sold for $20,400 – airbrushed compositions of forceful chevrons and diagonal bands of exploding colours, both from the most celebrated period of Letendre’s artistic oeuvre. Dorothy Knowles, a beloved Saskatchewan painter, saw reward with the enigmatic canvases, The Noon Sun ($7,000) and Bright Weeds ($26,400).
Further records were smashed in the December 3rd evening auction, with appreciation shown for Painter’s Eleven’s artist, Tom Hodgson. An energized, abstract masterpiece, Non Objective (Bluish), found a new home selling for $60,000, an auction record for the multitalented painter and athlete. Fellow member of the Painter’s Eleven abstract artist’s collective, Ray Mead, was much sought after in the lead-up to the auction, with Untitled, a 1959 painting fetching $15,600.
Attention for historical Canadian art was strong, as Surf, Barbados, B.W.I by J.E.H. MacDonald commanded a final value of $21,600 and a dynamic, yet diminutive oil on board by J.W. Morrice, Coast, Brittany, sold for $45,600. Rain on the River (Morning on the River) by David Milne, a favourite artist amongst collectors, achieved $40,800. Ungava Bay by A.Y. Jackson, a sketch for a canvas in the collection of Hart House, hammered down at $48,000, representing the artist’s vision and connection to the Arctic landscape. Another success in the historical realm was Martello Tower, Montreal by Ethel Seath, selling for $24,000.
Cowley Abbott was entrusted with a painting by the esteemed artist and physician, Sir Frederick Grant Banting. 2021 marks the centenary of the discovery of insulin by Banting, a momentous discovery that changed the lives of millions of people and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923. Island, French River, Ontario, suffused with colour, light and shadow, sold for $31,200, a brilliant result for this historical Canadian figure.
A founding member of the Professional Native Indian Artists, established in 1973, Dene and Anishinaabe (Salteaux) artist Alex Janvier of Cold Lake, Alberta, was an integral component of the auction. Shoreline Existence, a striking acrylic on canvas, set a new auction record at $31,200 after competitive bidding.
Three automatic works by Jock Macdonald executed in 1947 well exceeded their pre-sale estimates with vigorous telephone bidding the night of the auction. Untitled (Two Creatures) sold for $6,600, Prehistoric World for $10,200 and New Fruit for $7,800.
A prominent member of the Automatistes, Jean Paul Riopelle’s Dieppes (1966) sold for $130,500, while his small but mighty painting, Sans titre, 1970, had collectors clambering, achieving a final selling price of $52,800. The works of Ted Harrison were again met with avid interest – Yukon Priest selling for $19,200 and The Walk finding a buyer at $10,200.
The impressive results of the Fall Auction of Important Canadian Art are due to the active participation of both new and old bidders alike, as well as the unwavering support of the Canadian art community. We extend our sincere gratitude to the clients, bidders and buyers who helped to ensure that our Fall Live Auction was a triumph.
The new year begins with an exciting season of online auctions, offering a wide range of artwork for all levels of collectors. The team at Cowley Abbott is already hard at work preparing the tremendous offerings to be presented in the Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian Art and we greatly look forward to sharing the catalogue in the coming months. Cowley Abbott is currently accepting consignments for its upcoming auctions and if you feel our firm can be of service, we would be pleased to provide a complimentary and confidential consultation. Please contact our specialists at 1-866-931-8415 or [email protected]
Rare & Exceptional Work Spanning More Than A Century of Canadian Art Draws Competition From In-Person, Telephone & Online Bidders
The September 24th Cowley Abbott Fine Art Live Auction of Important Canadian and International Art held in the elegant Aria Ballroom of The Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville was a resounding success. Exceptional artworks by Canada’s pre-eminent historical, post-war and contemporary artists achieved strong results for consignors, while collectors were connected with artworks of rarity and quality.
Cowley Abbott was pleased to be entrusted with three significant works by the esteemed artist and physician, Sir Frederick Grant Banting. 2021 marks the centenary of the discovery of insulin by Banting, a momentous discovery that changed the lives of millions of people and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923. “Cobalt (1932)”, a striking canvas displaying Banting’s keen sense of colour, light and shadow sold for $44,840. Two other paintings by the artist, including “Seville, Spain, 1933”, broke through its pre-sale estimate achieving $20,060, while “Birches, French River, 1930”, a quintessential work by the artist sold for $18,880. Brilliant results for this deserving historical Canadian icon.
The September live auction witnessed solid prices for a wide range of historical Canadian works of art, including the work of: A.Y. Jackson (“St. Tites des Caps” fetching $21,240 and “Sugar Shanty, L’Islet” selling for $24,780); Marc-Aurèle Fortin (“La Seine à Paris” selling for $8,850); David Milne (“Fox Hill on a Rainy Day, Boston Corners”, a rare watercolour executed in 1920 fetched $82,600) and Robert Pilot (“Autumn Landscape” selling for $17,700). Among the strong selection of historical Canadian artworks included in the sale were works entrusted from the collection of Senator E. Leo Kolber, including a rare canvas by Cornelius Krieghoff, “Skinner’s Cave and Owl’s Head Mountain, Lake Memphremagog”. The rugged grandeur, tightly observed detail and sublime drama of this painting injects the work with a high romanticism that only Cornelius Kreighoff could accomplish. This fresh to auction painting garnered much attention from collectors during our bustling previews, fetching $47,200. “The Fruit Shop, Ottawa” by Kathleen Moir Morris, another important work from the collection of Senator Kolber, sold for $73,337.
A key highlight in the auction were two exceptional watercolours by the celebrated Canadian artist, James Wilson Morrice. “Study for ‘The Pond, West Indies’” and “Study for ‘Village Street, West Indies’” are exemplary watercolours that showcase the artist’s technique and ability, acting as preparatory studies for the paintings in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Arts, which are among the best examples in the artist’s oeuvre. These special works made their debut at auction, finding new homes for over $22,000, respectively.
From the moment of publication of the auction online, interest and excitement surrounded three paintings by the renowned Indigenous artist, Norval Morrisseau. These fresh to auction works, all acquired directly from the artist, illustrate the artist’s powerful and unique style, drawn from Anishnaabe cultural traditions. Two striking paintingsdepicting Harriet Kakegamic, the artist’s wife, each sold for $25,960 after much spirited bidding, while the enigmatic and endearing “Untitled (Moose Pair)” soared to $35,400.
Cowley Abbott was delighted to offer numerous works by accomplished Canadian female artists, many of which garnered lively bidding during the September auction, notably, Molly Lamb Bobak’s energetic,“The Bike Race”. This work drew strong attention during the live auction preview season and it did not take long for competitive bidding to push the work well beyond the pre-sale expectation of $5,000-7,000, hammering down for $17,700. “Summer Landscape” by Nora Collyer followed suit, selling for $18,800; the electric canvas, “Abstraction”, by Rita Letendre fetched $25,960; the respected and loved Doris McCarthy had two works included in the sale – “Iceberg & Floes”, from her sought after Arctic series, which sold for $47,200, and an early work, “Two Boats at Barachois” selling for $9,440; while Maud Lewis achieved another remarkable result with “Three Black Cats” reaching $18,800.
Multiple key sculptures were featured in the September 24th catalogue auction, including two important bronzes by Sorel Etrog: “Petachon” sold for $8,260 and “Untitled” for $23,600. A dynamic steel sculpture by Walter Yarwood of Painter’s Eleven sold for $4,484. A beautifully carved 20th Century Chest, a popular object with collectors, soared to $14,160 after spirited bidding between the telephone and the room.
A variety of Post-War and Contemporary offerings captivated visitors attending the Cowley Abbott gallery during previews prior to the September evening sale. Guido Molinari’s “Tri-Sériel Rouge”, a late addition to the sale, garnered avid attention fetching $82,600 over the telephone; Jean McEwen’s enigmatic “Tableaux sans paroles #3” sold for $59,000; “Snow Play” by Ted Harrison, a favourite amongst collectors, climbed to $14,160; a painterly landscape by Gordon Smith sold for $23,600; Paterson Ewen’s “Untitled” fetched $14,160 and a quintessential work by Kazuo Nakamura sold for $28,320.
The Atlantic magic realists exceeded expectations with Tom Forrestall’s shaped canvas, “Orchard” selling for a final price of $9,440 and Christopher Pratt’s “1887 Orange 13 Cent Stamp” hammering down for $12,980 after competitive bidding.
We extend our thanks to the clients, bidders and buyers who helped to ensure that our September 24th Live auction was a triumph. We are already preparing a very exciting catalogue for the December Live Auction and look forward to sharing it with you. The fall auction season continues with The Canadian Landscape Online Auction running from October 20th-27th, followed by the November Auction of Canadian and International Art from November 10th-24th, taking place concurrently with the December Live Auction.
Cowley Abbott is currently accepting consignments for its upcoming auctions and if you feel our firm can be of service, we would be pleased to provide a complimentary and confidential consultation. Please contact our specialists at 1-866-931-8415 or [email protected].
Cowley Abbott’s Live Auction of Important Canadian and International Art, taking place on September 24th at the Royal Ontario Museum, includes numerous works by celebrated Canadian female artists. Women artists have had a monumental impact on Canadian art throughout the decades. These accomplished artists have enriched the practice of visual art with their unique voices and distinctive artistic styles, developing an important facet within the Canadian art world. The breadth and talent of these female artists, and their significance in the past, present and future, is essential to the captivating story of Canadian art-making and collecting.
The critically acclaimed Rita Letendre, a prominent abstract artist, born of Abenaki and Quebecois heritage, has had a significant artistic career of various stylistic periods, spanning decades and various geographic placements. Letendre’s career in painting was cemented in Montreal in the 1950s when she became associated with two prominent abstract groups in Quebec, Les Automatistes and Les Plasticiens. Letendre was often the sole female artist within the shows for these groups, and eventually developed away from their approach to painting, finding it too restrictive.
Letendre’s large canvases of the 1970s explore her fascination with depicting speed and vibration. The use of airbrushed paint creates a dimension of depth in “Abstraction” (lot 48), while the dramatic shift in palette occurs when the black ‘arrow’, framed by two vivid neon green and bright pink stripes, constrained by turquoise and azure bands, slices through the surface of the work. The sharp lines of bright colour all converge to a single point at the tip of the black ‘arrow’ in these works, magnifying and concentrating the energy. Like the birth of a supernova, light and energy burst forth from the image plane in “Abstraction”.
Joyce Wieland studied design at Central Technical School in Toronto, before working as a graphic designer in the early 1950s and developing her practice in visual art. Wieland lived and worked with other artists in Toronto, eventually meeting the noted Canadian artist, Michael Snow, who she went on to marry. Wieland’s artistic career began to develop in 1960 when she held her first solo show after being included in a number of group shows. We recognize Wieland’s contribution to Canadian art for her experimentation with film, and her numerous paintings, assemblages, and mixed media works depicting themes of erotism and feminism.
Between 1959 and 1960, Wieland set up a proper studio space, purchased canvases and supplies and started executing larger scale works. Representing the first suggestion of her artistic future, the provocative works often featured phalluses, vaginas and hearts rendered in a humorous cartoon-like representation. Exploring this new lexicon, Wieland called these works her “sex poetry”. During a time where the female subjugation from her male contemporaries was celebrated, Wieland turned the tables and gazed at the male with the same liberty and lust automatically afforded to these male artists. “’Conversation Piece’ with a Short on Sailing” (lot 51) exemplifies this cheeky and boundary pushing question of gender politics.
A trailblazer for women in the arts in Canada, Molly Lamb Bobak was an official war artist, stationed in England during the Second World War. Bobak had initially enlisted as a draftswoman in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), documenting the day to day activities of her fellow corps members. Having exhibited at the Canadian Army Art exhibition in 1944, Bobak was awarded a prize for her work leading to her appointment as a war artist between 1945 and 1946.
Bobak often gravitated towards depictions of crowd scenes, as she was inspired by the celebratory victory parades of the Allied Forces at the end of the war. The communal gathering and subsequent energy created in a crowd fascinated the artist and this interest was further explored when Bobak returned to Canada to begin teaching at the University of New Brunswick. Frequenting pubs, sporting events, parades and student rallies, the campus environment offered Bobak ample inspiration and the opportunity to capture the essence of the crowd scene unfolding. “The Bike Race” (lot 2) is a charming work; the canvas captures the movement and frenzy of a bike race, as cyclists round a corner with exaggerated leaning bodies and dots of bright colour stipple the landscape.
Dorothy Knowles grew up on a farm overlooking a Prairie valley in Saskatchewan and initially had no plans to become a painter, studying biology at the University of Saskatchewan. At the time of her graduation, a friend persuaded her to enroll in a six-week summer course given by the University of Saskatchewan at Emma Lake, where Knowles found a proclivity for art. Her participation in the Emma Lake Workshops in the late 1940s through to the 1960s greatly influenced and encouraged her interest in landscape painting.
In the 1960s Knowles discovered the importance of working directly from nature, while also employing the use of sketches and photographs to finish her work in the studio. Her paintings capture the richness of the Prairie landscape through exploration of colour and texture. In “Reeds” (lot 71), Knowles transmits the diverse natural environment of the landscape. Often associated with paintings of expansive flat fields of wheat, Knowles brings a fresh approach to capturing her native landscape, exploring an impressionistic view of a diverse marshy landscape.
In 1921 Nora Collyer joined fellow Art Association of Montreal graduates at their studio at 305 Beaver Hill Hall. This association of artists called themselves the Beaver Hall Group. The three-story house offered the artists inexpensive studio space and a large room on the ground floor, which served as their exhibition gallery. The Beaver Hall group of modernist painters had a distinctive style rooted in the life and culture of Montreal and Quebec.
Growing up in Montreal with English Protestant parents, Collyer was imbued with a strong sense of community and gravitated towards depicting village landscapes and tokens of rural communities. With a richly composed foreground and a distant village depicted by the shore, “Summer Landscape” (lot 68) is executed with bold colour and rhythmic form, expressing her love of the region.
Kathleen Moir Morris studied under William Brymner and Maurice Cullen at the school of the Art Association of Montreal, and became a prominent member of the Beaver Hall Group in 1920. Working in oil, her subjects include landscape, genre, street and market scenes, as well as cabstands throughout Montreal and its environs. Morris was born with a physical disability, but refused to let it prevent her from painting outdoors in all seasons. After her father passed away in 1914, Morris moved to Ottawa with her mother a few years later, residing in a house on O’Connor Street from 1922 to 1929. The painter maintained an active presence in the Montreal art scene while living in Ottawa, continuing to participate in Beaver Hall exhibitions as well as those of the Canadian Group of Painters.
Morris would have frequented the Byward Market, still a bustling and popular destination to this day. In “The Fruit Shop, Ottawa” (lot 17), she depicts the sun shining on a fruit stand, busy with market goers in stylish 1920s attire. The crates of produce are colourful and warmly lit, as is the teal awning framing the upper border of the composition. Morris chose a bright and modern palette, synonymous with her body of work and that of the Beaver Hall Group. She painted from sketches, in which she simplified the forms and applied colour in bold, thick patches, visible in the faceless figures and abstracted fruit and vegetables.
Laura Muntz, born in Warwickshire, England, and came to Canada as a child with her family to settle on a farm in the backwoods of the Muskoka District. She became a school teacher in Hamilton, Ontario, and in her spare hours took art classes. With money saved from her teaching job she studied for a short time at the South Kensington School of Art, England about 1887. She returned to Canada and spent the next seven years earning money for study in Paris at the Academie Colorossi. Muntz also travelled in Holland and Italy and at the end of seven years returned to Toronto and opened a studio.
Muntz was first exposed to the tenets of Impressionism while undertaking artistic training in Paris from 1891-1898. She then adopted the use of light and open, fluid brushwork in her own compositions. The rich tones of Muntz’s swift brushwork in “Girl with Blue Bowl” (lot 58) creates a sensation of gentleness and warmth, reflecting Muntz’s genuine interest in the aesthetic representation of children. Although sadly childless herself, Muntz lived a life surrounded by children. She was a schoolteacher upon moving to Canada, and later became the caregiver of her deceased sister’s eleven children. Muntz’s depiction of domestic scenes not only reveal a consistent study of her most treasured subjects, women and children, but illustrate the female experience of Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Maud was born in South Ohio, a community near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Born disfigured with sloped shoulders and her chin resting on her chest, Maud led a confined but happy home life after she quit school at 14. Physical deformity may have been her lot, but even more tragic was the loss of both her parents within two years. Thankfully, an aunt who lived in Digby took her in. There she would later answer a newspaper ad that would determine the course of her life. A man named Everett Lewis wanted a housekeeper for his cottage in Marshalltown. She married him in 1938 at the age of thirty-four and would never travel more than an hour’s drive from her birthplace. Maud gathered images from her happy childhood and limited excursions in a Model T with Everett to paint cheerful images on dust pans, scallop shells and even on her house. They would settle into a routine where Everett enjoyed peddling and haggling over the paintings Maud would love to paint. The happiness she painted first attracted neighbours, then tourists and eventually even international attention. It started with a Star Weekly newspaper article and then a 1965 CBC Telescope program featuring her unique works. Her notoriety began to bloom and orders came in so fast that the paint hardly had time to dry.
The simplicity of Maud Lewis’ paintings, brushed initially with scrounged paint from local fishermen onto ubiquitous green boards and postcards, continue to evoke feelings of innocence, of child-like exuberance as enduring as the spring times she loved to paint. Her works, such as “Three Black Cats” (lot 61) and “Sandy Cove” (lot 62) continue to capture audiences intrigued by everyday scenes as diverse as three black cats, hard-working oxen, whimsical butterflies and harbour scenes.
Following studies at the Art Association of Montreal, Mabel May and fellow graduate, Emily Coonan, travelled to France to study. She and Coonan travelled widely in Europe, visiting galleries, museums and sketching, becoming a devote of the Impressionists. Upon her return to Montreal, and with her fellow AAM graduates, May helped establish the Beaver Hall Group in 1920, and in 1933 she became a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters.
Embracing the francophone tradition of depicting inhabited landscapes, “Farmstead, Eastern Townships” (lot 65) showcases May’s ability to arrange colour to accentuate the weighty mass of the farm structures, while maintaining a sense of lightness in the warm colour palette. Bold strokes of red, ochre and chartreuse imbue the work with warmth, light and vibrancy, highlighting the beauty of the rural scene.
Doris McCarthy – lot 8 and lot 87 images and cataloguing
Born in Calgary and raised in Toronto, Doris McCarthy is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost landscape painters. A teacher at both the Ontario College of Art and Central Technical School, McCarthy spent most of her life living and working in Scarborough, Ontario though she enjoyed many painting adventures across Canada and abroad. In some instances, McCarthy painted on site, and other times she took photographs to refer to later in her studio.
Painting mainly in oils and watercolours, McCarthy developed a personal style that was consistently praised for its vitality, boldness and skillful explorations of hard-edged angles, form and colour. “Two Boats at Barachois” (lot 87) demonstrates this confidence and the aptitude of McCarthy’s brush. McCarthy is probably best-known for her Canadian landscapes and her depictions of Arctic icebergs. In 1972, the year of her retirement from teaching, Doris made her first of many trips to the Canadian Arctic. McCarthy was fascinated with the topography of this territory and the new painting opportunities it provided her. Her paintings of icebergs and the Arctic landscape, including “Iceberg & Floes” (lot 8), are considered to be among the artist’s best known and most celebrated works.
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