Artwork by Tom Thomson,  Fallen Timber (Algonquin)

Tom Thomson
Fallen Timber (Algonquin)

oil on canvas, laid down on paperboard
inscribed “Gordon Harkness” and signed and inscribed by Thoreau MacDonald on the reverse; catalogue raisonne number 1912.02
6 x 9.25 ins ( 15.2 x 23.5 cms )

Auction Estimate: $200,000.00$150,000.00 - $200,000.00

Price Realized $125,000.00
Sale date: May 25th 2017

Elizabeth Thomson Harkness, Annan and Owen Sound
Gordon Harkness, Detroit, by descent
Mrs. Thomas Heil, Battle Creek, Michigan
Libby’s Art Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario
David Silcox and Harold Town, Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm, Toronto, 1977, page 55
David P. Silcox, Tom Thomson: Life and Work (online publication), Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2016, pages 10-12 and 23
From an early age, Tom Thomson showed great interest in the landscape which surrounded him. During a childhood illness which kept him from school, he would ‘wander in the hardwood and coniferous forests near his home, becoming familiar with woodland lore.’ Thomson’s father’s cousin was well-known naturalist, Dr. William Brodie and Tom would collect specimens during family visits and “in this way, learned to observe nature closely and respect its mystery.”

It was in 1912 that Thomson first visited Algonquin Park on a two-week painting expedition with Ben Jackson, a commercial art colleague at Toronto’s Grip Limited. Through the painter’s resulting work from these early visits to the park, David Silcox observes aspects which “illustrates Thomson’s transition from the formalities of commercial art to a more imaginative style of original painting”, 1912 standing as an “astonishing year in which the late-blooming Thomson began the transition from commercial artist to full-time painter.” In the fall, Thomson’s friend, mentor and fellow-painter J.E.H. MacDonald would meet Dr. James MacCallum, a University of Toronto professor who showed keen interest in landscape painting. MacCallum would recall of his first exposure to Thomson’s artwork in 1912 that he “recognized their ‘truthfullness…they made me feel that the North had gripped Thomson,’ just as it had gripped MacCallum as a boy.” MacCallum would soon offer Thomson and A.Y. Jackson financial support to devote themselves to painting full-time, a gesture which would have profound effects on not only Thomson and his work, but the history of Canadian art. “Although Thomson did not realize it at the time, he had found in MacCallum a patron, staunch supporter, and a guardian of his paintings after his death.”

Algonquin Park would become the locale for the majority of Thomson’s most celebrated work, the painter heading north to the region every spring, living and painting in the wilderness for as late as possible into the fall months before returning to Toronto during the winter to work on canvases at the Studio Building. The artist was at home in the Park, his skills in outdoor living continuing to develop with that of his artistic abilities. During a Fall 1914 painting trip with A.Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley and Arthur Lismer, the first painting excursion to include three members of the future Group of Seven, his fellow artists were amazed by Thomson’s comfort and prowess in the woods, “astounded by his ability to catch fish for the evening meal, cook over an open fire, set up camp, and navigate the rapids in a canoe.”

Thomson’s attention to detail is strongly evident in Fallen Timber (Algonquin), the painter employing his “exceptionally keen vision and penetrating insight” to capture every aspect of the rugged landscape before him. From the newly-bare stump just steps from his vantage point, we move cautiously through a twisted obstacle course, littered with fallen trees and sharp brush, further complicated by a recent, but moderate snowfall. As we continue toward the soft shapes of the horizon, we are welcomed by the tall and wide-reaching trees, creating a partial canopy beneath the pinks and light blues of the afternoon sky. Despite being one of his earliest visits to Algonquin Park, the composition speaks to Thomson’s interest in capturing and effectively portraying the most challenging of scenes, a highly-varied and transitioning landscape is confidently created by the painter through a controlled palette which allows only flashes of vivid pigment, found primarily in the contrast of wild reds and stark whites on the forest floor.

Fallen Timber (Algonquin) captures Tom Thomson’s brilliance through his “finely tuned microscopic eyes and wide-angled vision”, the complex landscape’s power emanating from not only from the balance of intricate detail with the immensity of the entirety, but from Thomson’s own connection to the land and terrain where his full emergence would soon be realized. “In all of Thomson’s paintings, accuracy of the subject and this emotional reaction at the time is what gives his work both authority and power.”

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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.