Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  At Gloucester

J.W. Morrice
At Gloucester

watercolour, laid down on paper
titled in the lower left margin
3.75 x 5 ins ( 9.5 x 12.7 cms ) ( sheet )

Auction Estimate: $7,000.00$5,000.00 - $7,000.00

Price Realized $4,720.00
Sale date: October 26th 2021

Collection of the artist
Maternal family of the artist (circa 1888)
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
The small size of this watercolour announces the numerous pochades that made Morrice famous; it was painted during a summer holiday before he left for Europe. During the year he was studying Law in Toronto to please his father, but in summer he could indulge in his passion for painting. Many early watercolours have been preserved, about half now in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, given by the Morrice family. The present one belongs to a group that came to light very recently, all of the same small size, painted on sheets detached from a pad of professional paper.

Three of the tiny watercolours in this group represent Lake Champlain, and one is dated 1888; in July of that year, the young artist and a brother sojourned in Alburgh, Vermont, just below the Quebec border (”St. Albans Messenger”, July 7). Morrice could have visited Gloucester the same summer, or the year before; certainly before mid-August 1888, when his maternal grandfather, James Anderson, a Scottish miller turned farmer, died in Galt. No doubt the Morrice family from Montreal attended the funerals; and we can imagine the tiny works being sent soon after to Euphemia Anderson, direct ancestor of the present owners. She was the half-sister of Annie, Morrice’s mother; their father had left Scotland in 1857 with both girls, then aged 16 and 6, and his second wife; he had retired to Galt after years in the Brampton area. Perhaps the neat mountings of the watercolours, with some titles inscribed at lower left – a feature also found in the MMFA group – could be the work of a proud mother rather than her son’s. Around 1888, Gloucester, a centuries-old fishing town, was opening up to diversification, with the exploitation of Cape Ann granite. The trains already brought hoards of tourists and some artists, attracted by the exceptional Atlantic light, but the famous art colony was still in the future. Since this is the only Morrice painting found so far with a Massachusetts subject, we presume that Morrice’s stay was more to relax than to work. This unique, perfect watercolour, the size of a postcard, can be seen as a “souvenir”: with very few pencil marks and light colours, the artist immortalized the fishing town and its granite, linked by the tall sailboat, emblem of the seaside resort.

We extend our thanks to Lucie Dorais, Canadian art historian and author of “J.W. Morrice” (National Gallery of Canada, 1985) for contributing the preceding essay.

Share this item with your friends

James Wilson Morrice
(1865 - 1924) RCA

James Wilson Morrice, Canadian painter, was born in Montreal in 1865. Abandoning law, he went to Paris where he studied painting. He visited Venice, Trinidad, Tunis, and periodically returned to Canada. Admired for his subtle colouring and delicate rendering of landscapes, Morrice greatly influenced younger Canadian artists.