Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Ungava Bay

A.Y. Jackson
Ungava Bay

oil on panel
signed lower right; titled and inscribed “C.R. Jackson” & “sketch for canvas in Hart House” on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$40,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $48,000.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

Catherine Rosaline Jackson (artist’s sister) or Coralie Ruth Jackson (artist’s sister-in-law), Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
Phillips-Ward Price, Toronto, April 27, 1982, as 1930, Lot 85
David Ariss Fine Art, St. John’s, Newfoundland
Private Collection, Newfoundland
A.Y. Jackson, ‘Up North’, “The Canadian Forum”, VIII:87 (December 1927) pages 478-80
F.G. Banting, ‘With the Arctic Patrol’, “Canadian Geographical Journal, I:1” (May 1930) pages 19-30
A.Y. Jackson, “A Painter’s Country”, Toronto, 1958, pages 93-100
Dr. Frederick Banting, ‘Diary and Drawings of Eastern Arctic Expedition 1927, with A.Y. Jackson’, “Northward Journal”, 14-15, 1979, pages 25-35
Naomi Jackson Groves, “A.Y. Jackson The Arctic 1927”, Moonbeam, Ontario, 1982, plate 78, text reference unpaginated
During a debate with A.Y. Jackson at Toronto’s Empire Club in February 1925, the painter Wyly Grier contended, “our friends of the Group of Seven … continually go further north … and I dare say that they will emerge at the North Pole some day.” Indeed A.Y. Jackson’s trip to the eastern Arctic in 1927 was a logical extension of his constant exploration of Canada’s many landscapes that had already seen him paint from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the Skeena River in British Columbia.

Accompanied by Dr. Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin and an amateur artist, the two artists left North Sydney, Cape Breton on 16 July 1927 on the Canadian government supply ship, the “S. S. Beothic”. Their first stop was at Godhavn, Greenland, continuing further north to the Bache Peninsula and southwest to Lancaster Sound where their passage was blocked by ice. O.S. Finnie of the Department of the Interior, later wrote that the weather in 1927 had been “the worst in all our experience.” Returning eastward the ship rounded Baffin Island and travelled west through the Hudson Strait to Lake Harbour “which lay in lovely, almost pastoral country with gentle sloping hills and many shallow lakes…. We very much regretted leaving there,” Jackson wrote in his autobiography “A Painter’s Country”. Their last stop was Port Burwell on the east tip of Ungava Bay. Then part of Labrador, Port Burwell is now part of Nunavut, though Jackson also exhibited oil sketches titled “Port Burwell, Quebec”. “It was a depressing place, cold and foggy, with rocky hills and the sea breaking on miles of granite coast.” Jackson was more descriptive in his diary. “30 August. Heavy fog, had difficulty finding Port Burwell…. got into Burwell about 3 p.m. interesting rock. H.B. Post, Air Station, old Moravian Mission… country very broken up, full of lakes, big granite boulders lying everywhere. good cod fishing. cold and bleak. scantier vegetation than Lake Harbour, Pangnirtung or Pond Inlet. … Wednesday August 31st. Went ashore with Banting, made sketch. color very interesting – ice on pools in rocks, big sea pounding on the coast, had to return to steamer at eleven, left after lunch.”

Given the difficulty of making visual records on a moving ship travelling past moving icebergs much of Jackson’s production consisted of rapidly drawn graphite drawings. Landings were brief as the artists had to be attuned to the whistle of the ship, always fearful of being caught in the ice. Two drawings of Port Burwell are illustrated in Naomi Jackson Groves’ book “A.Y. Jackson The Arctic 1927” (plate 78). Below the drawings Jackson wrote some observations for developing the drawings in paint, “foreground bold rich. sparkle of light & shadow middle. rock more luminous. less dead greys greens etc. lighter. giving more contrast to violet of rocks. distance in shadow. more fantastic richer design of water and surf,” “foreground rock, luminous reds, violets pale blue & greens cool, grass lighter gold giving richer contrast. hills beyond lake bold yellow greys & browns distance not very blue but separating from middle distance.”

Jackson wrote in his diary on September 1st after leaving Port Burwell, “Labrador in extreme distance this AM, out of sight of land since, sea quiet, weather mild, made 2 sketches.” “Ungava Bay” was probably painted on 1 September in his cabin from the compositional drawing. The oil sketch’s subtle arrangement of browns, purples and greys is highlighted by the blue in the foreground rocks and yellow-greens of the foliage in the middle ground.

In light of his affection for Lake Harbour and apparent antipathy for Port Burwell, it is surprising that Jackson’s largest canvas resultant from this 1927 Arctic voyage was a landscape of Port Burwell. Labrador Coast was painted from the oil sketch, “Ungava Bay”, and was first shown in the “Exhibition of Paintings by Contemporary Canadian Artists” sponsored by the American Federation of Arts that opened at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington in March 1930.

Though radically altered, the canvas retains the basic configuration of the landscape depicted in the sketch. In the canvas the foreground rocks are more sculptural and the water lower left more defined. The middle ground has become a rhythmic pattern of interlocking curves that flow into the more prominent background hills. Flowing clouds crown the composition, echoing the design of the rocks. Painted in a higher key, the subtlety and intimacy of the oil sketch has been transformed into a massive, bold design.

A key figure in the history of the Group of Seven, Jackson’s career is marked by a number of major paintings such as Labrador Coast, the largest canvas from his first Arctic voyage. An outstandingly beautiful sketch in itself, linking the oil sketch to the canvas enable us to better understand both his vision of the Arctic landscape and his working method.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art with the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven - Art for a Nation”, for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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Alexander Young Jackson
(1882 - 1974) Group of Seven, OSA, RCA

Born in Montreal, Alexander Young Jackson left school at the age of twelve and began work at a Montreal printing firm. In 1906, he undertook art studies at the Art Institute in Chicago. The following year he enrolled at the Académie Julian where he studied under Jean Paul Laurens for six months, then he travelled to Italy with others where they visited galleries in Rome, Florence and Venice. They returned to France and Jackson went to the village of Episy with a fellow student named Porter with whom he had lived in Paris. Jackson found much to paint at Episy: old farms, rolling country, the canal where barges were towed by mules, and for the first time (in France) he lived with people close to the land.

He left France when his funds were low and returned to Canada in 1910 where the “clear crisp air and sharp shadows” of Sweetsburg, Quebec, became the subject of his canvas “Edge of the Maple Wood”. During this period his painting was strongly influenced by the Impressionists. Then the work of Canadian artists Cullen and Morrice led him further in the discoveries of snow and other elements of Canadian subject matter which were to become an integral part of his work throughout his life. After his return to Canada, Jackson took up residence in Montreal and made many sketching trips to the surrounding countryside. While at Emileville he received a letter from a J.E.H. MacDonald of Toronto who wanted to purchase his “Edge of the Maple Wood” on behalf of a third party, Lawren Harris. Jackson sold the picture and later met MacDonald in Toronto. In Toronto he also met, through MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley and other members of the Arts and Letters Club who were employed by the Grip Engraving Company as commercial artists. Jackson later went to Georgian Bay to sketch and was visited there by Dr. James MacCallum, a friend of Lawren Harris. MacCallum, who had a summer home at the Bay, offered Jackson a place to work in the ‘Studio Building’ which MacCallum and Lawren Harris were having built for Canadian artists in Toronto. In the meantime Jackson was invited to stay at MacCallum’s summer home. Jackson’s production was good; he did many sketches and a number of canvases, one being the “Maple in the Pine Woods” which was later to bring a storm of criticism at a Group of Seven exhibition.

On his return to Toronto, Jackson stayed at Lawren Harris’ studio in Toronto until the Studio Building was completed. There one day he was introduced to Tom Thomson who had accompanied Dr. MacCallum on a visit. Thomson was also an employee of the Grip Engraving Company. The two moved into the Studio Building in January 1914 and shared a studio. Thomson had soon inspired Jackson to visit Algonquin Park in February and March of 1914. Jackson also sketched that year with J.E.H. MacDonald and J.W. Beatty. In 1915, Jackson enlisted as a private in the 60th Battalion and after being wounded, returned later to the front as Lieutenant with Canadian War Records. As a war artist he created one of the finest collections of war paintings our nation possesses.

In 1919 he went to Algoma with J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris and Franz Johnston, making use of a railway box car as a studio which Harris had arranged. During that year, Jackson became a full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. On May 7th, 1920, the first exhibition of the Group of Seven opened at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The Group continued to exhibit until 1931. Each exhibition of the Group was met with great protest. In July of 1927 Jackson and Dr. Frederick Banting went north on the steamer ‘Beothic’ which had been chartered by the government to deliver supplies to the RCMP posts and to carry relief constables to the posts. They sketched at Pond Inlet, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island and other arctic locations. Jackson’s arctic sketches were exhibited at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Jackson's great sense of adventure carried him from the east coast across Canada to the Rocky Mountains of the west. He made regular sketching trips to Quebec every spring and travelled to the far regions of Canada during the summer, including the Canadian Arctic. In the fall he would return to the Studio Building in Toronto (where he lived until 1955), spending the winters painting canvases. He continued this active lifestyle until he was in his eighties.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979