Artwork by Alfred Joseph Casson,  Storm in the Cloche Hills

A.J. Casson
Storm in the Cloche Hills

oil on board
signed lower right
30 x 36 ins ( 76.2 x 91.4 cms )

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

Price Realized $118,000.00
Sale date: November 20th 2018

Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario
Ontario Society of Artists 79th Annual Spring Exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto, March 10 - April 15, 1951, no. 14
Canadian National Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, Toronto, August 24 - September 8, 1951, no. 28
Paul Duval, Alfred Joseph Casson, President, Royal Canadian Academy, Toronto, 1951, reproduced page 62
Hubert De Santana, A Painter’s Life: A.J. Casson looks back on 60 years at the easel, Canadian Art, Spring 1985, pages 64-69
Paul Duval, A.J. Casson, Toronto, 1951, unpaginated
As one of Canada’s most prominent landscape painters, Alfred Joseph Casson was loyal to the wilderness and villages of Ontario. “Storm in the Cloche Hills” (1951) portrays one of the artist’s preferred subjects for many years, the La Cloche Mountains. Teeming with mood from dramatic shadows and cloud formations, the canvas serves as an exemplary representation of Casson’s famed landscape paintings, and particularly of his increasingly abstract approach of the late 1940s and early 50s.

An uneven terrain of converging grey rocks dominates the foreground of the composition, the centre of which is illuminated from what must be a short break in the heavily clouded sky. Located in the Canadian Shield region and among the highest altitudes in Ontario, the La Cloche Mountains are composed of white quartzite, as emphatically illustrated by the artist. From 1948 to 1950, Casson’s preferred location to paint was the La Cloche channel. In a letter to the current owner in 1972, Casson wrote of this painting: “I visited the Cloche Hills many times and found a great amount of painting material there. I am pleased to know that the picture has found a good home as it is one of the best canvases I made in that location.”

Many of the larger rocks that recede into the distance of the composition are covered by dark shadows, as are a few slender trees growing amid the rugged ground. Dark grey clouds hover over the land, with only a small opening of teal sky in the distance, suggesting the impending storm announced in the painting’s title. Paul Duval praises Casson’s skill of depicting an ephemeral moment or scene, such as a passing storm, as if frozen in time. The author remarks, “Like the contemporary American realist, Edward Hopper, he has the ability to crystallize a moment, to make concrete and eternal the passing vision. It is as though the time-machine has suddenly ceased to function, in a world where the wind had stopped breathing and the shadows no longer moved and every blade of glass and cloud were fixed forever.”

A.J. Casson had a traditional artistic training, beginning his career as a fairly realistic artist, with increased individuality developing in the 1930s and 40s, particularly in atmosphere and dramatic lighting. “Storm in the Cloche Hills” exemplifies the painter’s marked shift to a more abstract rendering of the Ontario landscape, which occurred in the mid-1940s. Duval mentions that this change coincided with the end of the war, which may have subconsciously brought Casson an emotional release and a longing for simplicity. The artist began to portray nature in reductive, abstract designs, foregoing literal atmospheric portrayal. Duval writes of this shift: “Suddenly, all of the elements in his paintings become highly simplified into formal patterns. Shapes are condensed into knife-edged rectangles and triangles. Colours are plotted into very deliberate counterpointal arrangements, and natural texture is subdued almost to the point of elimination. Design has become paramount.” The author’s description of Casson’s new style is demonstrated in “Storm in the Cloche Hills”, where the rock forms appear flattened and smooth, and the clouds angular and planar.

Common to Casson’s work throughout his career is a limited colour palette. In a 1985 interview, the artist recalls this strategy as being present since his early days with the Group of Seven, when “exhibitions were flaming with colour.” He elaborated by stating: “Well, I’ve always thought that if you want to stand out, don’t follow the herd. I was inclined to go into subtle greys, to get away from the gaudy. I painted a few gaudy ones, but they never appealed to me.” In “Storm in the Cloche Hills”, Casson’s restricted palette is evident, containing repeating shades of grey throughout the rocks and clouds, and similarly-toned greens in the trees and sky. Duval considers this canvas in particular as a prime example of Casson’s work of dramatic landscapes of the period, writing: “The unleashed power of nature has marked such commanding compositions by the artist as [...] “Storm in the Cloche Hills” (1951).”

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Alfred Joseph Casson
(1898 - 1992) Group of Seven, PRCA, OSA, CSPW

Born in Toronto, Ontario, he started art studies at Ryerson School and later under John S. Gordon at the Hamilton Technical School when his family moved to Hamilton. His family moved back to Toronto in 1916 and he worked free lance and studied evenings at the Ontario College of Art, the Toronto Central Technical School under Alfred Howell, and classes under Harry Britton who first taught him watercolour techniques and introduced him to oil painting.

When the young A.J. Casson first took a position as design assistant to Franklin Carmichael at the firm of Rous and Mann, he could not have known the remarkable direction his career would take. The demanding but affable Carmichael became a friend, mentor and sketching companion. In fact, it was Carmichael who introduced Alfred Casson to members of the Group of Seven at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club. The dedicated artist began to exhibit with the Group and became a natural successor to Frank Johnston when he left to pursue other interests.

He exhibited for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1921, and in 1923 his canvas “Clearing” was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada. Casson , Carmichael and F. H. Brigden formed the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour in 1925 “to encourage and foster the art of watercolour in Canada.” F. B. Housser wrote in the Year Book of Arts in Canada “Carmichael and Casson are painting in watercolours … giving to Canadian landscape a statement in watercolour as bold and untraditional as that which some of their associates have given it in oils.”

Most of Casson’s large canvases were done between 1926 and 1930 when he found his subject matter in the Haliburton Region and Lake Superior areas. It was about 1924 that Casson became interested in the Ontario village. He made many pencilled sketches of structural details which became a valuable reference for his larger studies in oils like “Anglican Church at Magnetawan” completed in 1933 and purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1936. In his depiction of the more settled areas of southern Ontario, A.J. Casson was deliberately seeking out subject matter that set his work apart from the preferred material of other Group of Seven members. Alfred Casson’s strong design background shaped a unique painting style, characterized by graceful lines and carefully considered compositions. With the passing of time his style underwent a subtle change in which pattern became an essential element in his work.

In addition to his dedication to excellence in his own work, A.J. Casson was instrumental in the formation of important Canadian art organizations such as the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Canadian Group of Painters and the WWII War Artists Program. Vice President and Art Director for Sampson-Matthews Ltd. for almost 20 years, he was responsible for the technical development of programs in connection with reproduction of artists’ works carried out by the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Pulp and Paper Association and Sampson-Matthews Limited. He did heraldic work which was reproduced by Sampson-Matthews Ltd. including armorial bearings of Canada and a series of landscapes.

There can be no doubt that over a long career, which spanned much of the twentieth century, Alfred Joseph Casson left an indelible mark on the Canadian art landscape.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977

  • 1898   Alfred Joseph Casson born in Toronto
  • 1912   Studies at Hamilton Technical School under John S. Gordon
  • 1913   Apprenticeship at the Laidlaw Lithography Company in Hamilton, Ont.
  • 1914   Apprenticeship at Commercial Engravers Company
  • 1915   Freelance designer
  • 1915-1917   Studies at Toronto Central Technical College under Alfred Howell
  • 1918-1921   Studies at the Ontario College of Art under J.W. Beatty
  • 1919-1926   Assistant Designer to Franklin Carmichael at the design firm of Rous and Mann Ltd. 
  • 1920   Carmichael introduces Casson to Group of Seven members at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club
  • 1921   Exhibits for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists;  accompanies Carmichael on an extended painting trip to Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka district
  • 1922   Exhibits for the first time with the Group of Seven
  • 1923   “Clearing”, is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada; becomes a member of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1925   Founding member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour together with Franklin Carmichael and F.H. Brigden
  • 1926   Becomes a member of the Group of Seven upon the departure of Frank Johnston;  accompanies Franklin Carmichael to the design firm of Sampson-Matthews;  becomes an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  buys a car and begins to explore the small villages and hamlets of Southern Ontario
  • 1926-1930   Sketches in the regions of Haliburton and Lake Superior
  • 1928   Sketching trip to Lake Superior with A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris and Franklin Carmichael
  • 1933   Co-founds the Canadian Group of Painters after the dissolution of the Group of Seven, following the death of J.E.H. MacDonald
  • 1936   Anglican Church at Magnetawan is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada
  • 1939   Becomes a full member of the RCA
  • 1939-1945  Appointed as a member of Canada’s War Records Committee;  helps to establish the WWII War Artists Program
  • 1940   Elected President of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1942   Appointed Art Director of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1946   Appointed Vice-President of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1949   Publishes “The Possibilities of Silk Screen Reproduction” in Canadian Art magazine
  • 1948   Elected President of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  receives the Province of Ontario Award
  • 1954   Awarded the Gold Medal for Excellence in Canadian Advertising
  • 1955-1959   Appointed Vice-President of the Art Gallery of Ontario
  • 1957   Retires from Sampson-Matthews in order to pursue painting on a full-time basis;  awarded Gold Medal from the University of Alberta
  • 1967   Awarded Canada’s Silver Centennial Medal
  • 1970   Awarded the Royal Canadian Academy Medal; conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Western Ontario
  • 1971   Conferred with an Honourary Degree from the University of Saskatchewan
  • 1973   Becomes a Fellow of the Ontario College of Art; awarded the City of Toronto Award of Merit for distinguished public service
  • 1975   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Toronto
  • 1977   Awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1979   Awarded the Order of Canada
  • 1980   Conferred with an D.F.A. from Mount Allison University
  • 1982   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from McMaster University
  • 1991   Awarded the Order of Ontario
  • 1992   Dies in Toronto at the age of 93