Artwork by Jack Weldon Humphrey,  Mexican Market, circa 1938

Jack Humphrey
Mexican Market, circa 1938

brush and ink
signed lower left; signed and titled on the reverse
12.4 x 16.75 ins ( 31.5 x 42.5 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $700.00$500.00 - $700.00

Price Realized $885.00
Sale date: January 28th 2020

Galerie Dresdnere, Toronto
Collection of Paul Duval, Toronto

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Jack Weldon Humphrey
(1901 - 1967) Canadian Group of Painters

Born in St. John, N.B., his interest in art began at the age of four when he had his portrait painted in pastel by his aunt who had studied under Robert Henry in New York. J. Russell harper relates of his early life as follows, “The ambition os Humphrey's youth was to be a writer when he went away to study at Mt. Allison University. Illness cut short both his university career and lessons on the violin. Although his musical background was slight, from 1950 to 1957 he played in the string section of the local symphony orchestra. Before that, he had played classical music with a violinist friend—evenings of two violins and piano among parties of friends at his Prince William Street rooms. The musicians and everybody else seemed to have good times.”

He took his first formal art studies at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, under Philip Hale, where he drew from life and from the antique (1920-23). He then studied at the National Academy of Design in New York under Charles Hawthorne (1924-1929). During the summers he stayed at Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he took additional study also under Hawthorne and others. From Hawthorne, Humphrey received a background of painterly development (rich colours, using pigment to liven and enrich texturally his paintings). From the very first summer Humphrey was one of Hawthorne's best pupils and served as monitor over classes and assistant at the school studio. It was there that Humphrey met two former students of Hans Hoffmann and together they explored Hoffman's concepts of nature in terms of movement and space.

When Humphrey went to Europe the next year (1929), he visited Paris where he studied drawing at the Grande Chaumiere and viewed forty canvases of Cezanne at the Theatre Pigalle when went on to Munich where he studied at the Hans Hoffmann school for two and a half months. Afterwards he went to Italy to see the art os the Renaissance, of antiquity and of the Byzantine period (mosaics). He returned to Paris by way of Cologne, Germany, where he saw the work of German Expressionists. He then visited Holland to see the work of Van Gogh, also visiting Belgium.

He returned to St. John during the Depression and despite difficulties he stuck to his painting. Graham McInnes tells of this period as follows, “Humphrey did not return to New York; he stayed in Saint John, and by about 1935 had already begun to achieve national recognition. He has never done anything else but paint. Unlike many other painters, he has never attempted to mix art with other methods of earning a livelihood; nor, though he has had his ups and downs, has he ever succumbed to the temptation to be regional for mere regionalism's sake...Fundamentally, Humphrey loves his native city and is not really at home when he is away from it...His studio is a genial clutter of chests, old vases and water-colours, and here and there objects with which he is experimenting in his recent trend towards a more abstract treatment; smooth silver-grey driftwood, pitchers, sea-shells and pottery. Before the tall window looking out across the harbour to West Saint John he has cleared himself a small space in which to work.” Buchanan went on to tell how Humphrey would do his field sketching from his 1932 'jalopy' where he found the passers-by, banging trains, and the boats in the harbour 'nudged' by the tide.

During the Depression, Humphrey did a series of remarkably natural portraits of children which J. Russell Harper describes as follows, “There are, for example, boys and girls with solemn faces, chosen from groups waiting outside the news office to earn a few cents by delivering papers. A child's naturalness, he lack of self-consciousness, held more attraction as a model than an adult with preconceived inhibitions.”

Humphrey managed to take two trips during his early career, to Vancouver in 1933 and Mexico in 1938. Much of his work of this period was modern and poetic in interpretation and with the exception of his Vancouver and Mexico paintings, had to do with his own region. Many scenes were discernible ones for the layman while others were abstract with an almost stained glass effect as if to retreat to an inner world. He worked in many mediums including oils on canvas, oil on board, on masonite; charcoal, chalk, pastel , and pencil drawings; water colours; gouache; ink and water colour; and acrylic gouache. In 1938, Humphrey became a member of the Eastern Group of Painters which included Alexander Bercovitch, Goodridge Roberts, Eric Goldberg and Jori Smith. Out of this group evolved the Contemporary Art Society.

In 1951, Humphrey received an honourary degree of Doctor of Laws (a rare honour for an artist in Canada at that time). In 1952 he was one of two artists awarded an overseas fellowship (from nine fellowships awarded). It enabled him to spend thirteen months in Paris, and two months on the Brittany coast.

On his return to Canada, he made his break from figurative painting altogether although his studies were derived from subject matter of his region. He carries his abstraction to the very limit of abstraction as is to assert the philosophy of Hans Hoffman, his old teacher, who believed in the force of colour and of two-dimensionality as the ultimate in expression. His painting entitled “Compartments” reproduced in “Painting in Canada/ A History” by Harper (plate 296 on p. 327) is an example of his final period.

Throughout his career, Humphrey participated in many exhibitions, the first of them in 1929 (while he was still a student) with the Philadelphia Water Color Society and the New York Water Color Club; A Century of Canadian Art in 1938 (Tate Gallery, London); First Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Painting (1955); Second (1957), Third (1959) and Fifth (1963) Biennials of Canadian Art, and many other exhibitions. He was a member of the Canadian Society of Painters In Water Colour (1939); Canadian Group of Painters; International Association of Plastic Arts (1955); Canadian Society of Graphic Arts and he participated in many of these societies' exhibitions. A retrospective exhibition of 68 of his works was organized by Stuart A. Smith, Director of the Beaverbrook Gallery in 1967 and the exhibition catalogue was written by J. Russell Harper. This exhibition was circulated by the National Gallery of Canada and opening first at the National Gallery after which it travelled to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon). The University of Sherbrooke (Que.), The Confederation Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PEI), The New Brunswick Museum, and lastly to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery at Fredericton.

Jack Humphrey dies in 1967 before the retrospective exhibition had finished its tour. The late Donald Buchanan gave us this glimpse of Humphrey, “In his quarters, Humphrey from time to time entertains his friends...Occasionally there with he a magnificent meal...Sometimes he will play the violin to the accompaniment of an upright grand or 'box' piano...There will be plenty of talk and argument, but little from Humphrey. He prefers mostly to sit with his impressive bulk slumped in a chair, his contemplative blue eyes sunk beneath his high forehead with its wisps of grizzle hair, and about his lips a half smile as if enjoying some inner joke...He does not talk much about his painting; he prefers to listen, and to paint; he remains curiously aloof, monolithic and introvert.”

He is represented in the following public collections: National Gallery of Canada; Hart House, U of T; Art Gallery of Ontario; Department of External Affairs, Department of Transport; New Brunswick Museum; The Public Library and Art Museum (London, Ontario); Beaverbrook Art Gallery; Mount Allison University; Edmonton Art Gallery; Dalhousie University; Memorial University of Newfoundland; Atlantic House, London, England; Saint John Art Club; University of New Brunswick; Sir George Williams University; Royal Victoria College (McGill University); Seagram Collection; CIL Collection; Winnipeg Art Gallery; Confederation Art Gallery at Charlottetown and many private collections.

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