Artwork by Clarence Alphonse Gagnon,  La Mare, Baie St. Paul, 1920

Clarence Gagnon
La Mare, Baie St. Paul, 1920

oil on panel
certified by Lucile Rodier Gagnon (no.358) on a label on the reverse
4.75 x 7 ins ( 12.1 x 17.8 cms )

Auction Estimate: $20,000.00$15,000.00 - $20,000.00

Price Realized $23,600.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Watson Art Galleries, Montreal
G. Blair Laing Limited, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Hélène Sicotte and Michèle Grandbois, Clarence Gagnon, 1881-1942: Dreaming the Landscape, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2006, pages 352 and 140 for the related canvas reproduced in colour, The Pond in October, c.1921, (National Gallery of Canada)
René Boissay, Clarence Gagnon, Ottawa, 1988, pages 145-46
Clarence Gagnon spent five years in Baie St. Paul from 1919-1924. He had spent time painting in the region before, but he returned this time to settle with his second wife, Lucile Rodier, whom he had married in June 1919. Lucile Rodier has played a vital role in the legacy of her husband’s artworks, as the labels affixed to the reverse of Gagnon’s pochades are a mark of authenticity that have long assisted both collectors and scholars in the identification of the details of Gagnon’s works.

While Baie St. Paul remained a rural and somewhat isolated place, with the advent of the opening of the railway line linking the area to Quebec City and Montreal, the region became more accessible and enticed many painting friends to visit Gagnon. These visitors included A.Y. Jackson, Randolph Hewton, Mabel May, Edwin Holgate, Albert Robinson and Lilias Torrance Netwon, who often joined Gagnon on outdoor painting expeditions. When undertaking these excursions, Gagnon often travelled on skis in the winter and on foot in the summer, always with his paint box, “Swiss bag” and sketchbook in tow.

“La Mare, Baie St. Paul”, executed in 1920, marks a change in both materials and preparations that cement Gagnon’s position as one of Canada’s greatest colourists. The chromatic and formal harmony which dominates in this work may be the result of new techniques of paint preparation that Gagnon had adopted on his return to Quebec in 1919, as the artist began experimenting with various painting preparations which involved grinding his own pigments. Boissay notes that “the grinding of colors is a long process and requires considerable energy; however, Gagnon found that it allowed him to be a more complete artist in that he was involved in every creative step of his art. Furthermore, he was able to achieve purer and subtler tones.”

This pochade, “La Mare, Baie St. Paul” is a sketch for the canvas entitled, “The Pond in October”, within the permanent collection of The National Gallery of Canada. “The Pond in October” was executed in 1921, and this sketch is one of two pochades, both entitled “La Mare, Baie St. Paul”, which Lucile Rodier has recorded within the Gagnon inventory.

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Clarence Alphonse Gagnon
(1881 - 1942) RCA

Clarence Gagnon was born in Montreal, Quebec, his father of French origin and his mother of English. The Gagnon family moved to St. Rose where they lived for ten years, then returned to Montreal where Clarence received a commercial education at the Ecole du Plateau and artistic training at the Art Association of Montreal under William Brymner from 1897-1900. In the summer of 1899 he spent some time in Lower Quebec where he did paintings that won him prize money from the Art Association of Montreal. After two years at the Association he worked for William Maxwell, R.C.A., prominent architect and spent his summers at St. Joachim. At Maxwell’s home in 1902, Gagnon made his first drypoint etching no bigger than a visting card. Gagnon probably studied the engravings of Rembrandt as he once told Robert Pilot about the time he and another artist secured the loan of six small etched copper plates by the Dutch master with which they made several copies of each.

In 1903, the generosity of art patron James Morgan allowed him to go to Paris and study in the studio of painter Jean-Paul Laurens. Gagnon distinguished himself early in his career by the quality of his engravings and won a gold medal at the St. Louis Exhibition in 1904 and an honourable mention the following year at the Salon des Artistes Francais in Paris. Two of his etchings were reproduced in Paul Duval’s book “Canadian Drawings and Prints”. Many of these etchings were of scenes in Venice, Normandy and Brittany.

Returning to Canada in 1909, he divided his time between Montreal and Baie-St-Paul. There in Charlevoix County, he painted scenes of habitant life and was soon a familiar figure in the community. He had a genuine love of the country and could detect the slightest change in some areas where he spent many hours. He became a member of the Royal Society of Canada and later he was elected associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

He felt compelled to return to France in 1917 and, while in Paris, continued to paint canvases based on his earlier sketches of Quebec villages. His occasional winter visits to Norway refreshed his memories of snow and the northern atmosphere. He returned to Canada to marry two years later, remaining until 1924. During this period, he sketched with A.Y. Jackson and Edwin Holgate at Baie Ste Paul. He received the Trevor Prize of the Salmagundi Club of New York. He illustrated “Le Grand Silence Blanc” (1929) and the deluxe edition of Louis Hemon's “Maria Chapdelaine” (1933). Upon his return from a second stay in France from 1922-36, the University de Montreal awarded him an honorary doctorate.

He died in Montreal at the age of 61. A memorial exhibition of his work was organized by the National Gallery of Canada which included paintings from the permanent collections of the National Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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