Artwork by Tom Thomson,  Road Near Leith

Tom Thomson
Road Near Leith

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1908 lower right; catalogue raisonne number 1918.04
8.25 x 13.5 ins ( 21 x 34.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $80,000.00$60,000.00 - $80,000.00

Price Realized $100,300.00
Sale date: May 28th 2019

Private Collection, Ontario
David Silcox and Harold Town, Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm, Toronto, 1977, page 49
David P. Silcox, Tom Thomson: Life and Work (online publication), Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2016, pages 3, 7 and 9
Born in Claremont, Ontario, a small village northeast of Toronto, Tom Thomson and his family would move to nearby Leith when he was two months old, the town located less than ten kilometres from the city of Owen Sound. Thomson’s childhood was a happy and hectic one, the sixth of ten children, who were encouraged and entertained early, through activities including reading, music, hunting, fishing and drawing.

Throughout his life, Thomson would return regularly to Leith to visit his family and it likely would have been during one of these trips that he painted 1908’s “Road Near Leith”. The artist had settled in Toronto in the years previous (after stays in Owen Sound and Seattle) and was continuing a career in commercial art which would connect him with J.E.H. MacDonald and future members of the Group of Seven. During this early period in Toronto, Thomson is believed to have also been taking night classes with William Cruikshank at the Central Ontario School of Art and Industrial Design (now OCAD University), likely learning “useful techniques” from the British artist.

Painted at the start of the decade of Thomson’s artistic transformation, which would lead to some of the most celebrated and influential Canadian works of art of the twentieth century, “Road Near Leith” possesses traits which would be central to his tragically brief career as an artist. The painter’s masterful handling of light is most apparent, the gradated reds and oranges beaming from a central point at the end of the road, guiding the viewer through a darkened corridor of trees before arriving upon the most vivid of the composition’s pigmentation at the horizon. Thomson creates the land in dark and earthen shades, a perfect contrast to the transitioning sky, with the soft slate of the road cutting through the fields. As with many of Thomson’s early works, we are treated to a scene of apparent simplicity only to have it slowly reveal aspects of complexity before our eyes.

The composition provides the possibility of this street being that which would become “Tom Thomson Lane”, named for the famous son of Leith and one of only three main roads leading into the community. It is upon that street that we find Leith Church, where the Thomson family regularly attended services and the children sang in the choir (and where Tom is said to have sketched “caricatures of neighbours” in the hymn books, to the amusement of his sisters). Steps from the church on the street bearing his name, we find Leith Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place of Tom Thomson.

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Tom Thomson
(1877 - 1917)

Tom Thomson was born near Claremont, Ontario and grew up in Leith, near Owen Sound. After moving to Toronto, his early career was spent as a commercial artist at Grip Ltd., the commercial design firm where he first met MacDonald, Harris, Jackson, Lismer and others. By 1911, Thomson was making regular sketching trips to areas north of Toronto and, in 1912, he made the first of many trips to Algonquin Park.

As well as being an artist, Tom Thomson was an avid outdoorsman and Algonquin Park soon became his favourite place to paint. His enthusiasm for its quiet, untouched landscape with its changing moods and bright fall colours inspired other artists to explore the region. After 1914, Tom Thomson spent most of his time painting in Algonquin, except during the coldest winter months. It was during this period that he produced the bulk of his paintings of this rugged northern landscape. Thomson's brief, but prolific, career as an artist came to a premature end when he drowned in Canoe Lake in 1917, just three years before the Group of Seven held their first exhibition. His artistic achievement was to remain an inspirational force to other Group members.