Artwork by Frederick Grant Banting,  Cobalt

Frederick Banting

oil on board
signed lower right; signed, titled and dated “Oct. 1932” on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $35,000.00$25,000.00 - $35,000.00

Price Realized $44,840.00
Sale date: September 24th 2020

Gift of the artist to Walter Cowan, Toronto
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
“Exhibition of Paintings by the Late Sir Frederick Banting”, Hart House, University of Toronto, February 13 - March 1, 1943
Nobel Prize winner Sir Frederick Grant Banting frequented the Arts and Letters Club when he was able to find time away from his medical career. At this club he met A.Y. Jackson in 1927, and the two quickly became friends and sketching companions. That same year, the pair travelled to St-Jean-Port-Joli, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, where Banting received his first instruction in en plein air landscape painting from the Group artist. Shortly after, in July of 1927, Banting and Jackson made a trip to the Arctic. During their two and a half month stay, the pair sketched the wide range of weather conditions and light variations of the Arctic landscape. Banting accompanied Jackson on many subsequent sketching trips, including the North shore of the St. Lawrence, Great Slave Lake and Georgian Bay.

By the 1930s, Banting became one of Canada’s best known emerging artists with a keen sense of colour, light and shadow. He refined his practice, often looking to Jackson for guidance to better develop what was first a pastime, into a career. “Cobalt”, completed in 1932, demonstrates Banting’s mastery of the en plein air oil sketch. This charming work shows similarities to Jackson’s quaint winter village scenes that he often referred to as depicting “Christmas card country”. “Cobalt” reflects Jackson’s strong sense of colour and composition: the fluid, rhythmic lines of the snow juxtaposed with the dense geometry of the buildings; the rich accent colours of the yellow and green house; and the single figure dressed in red. Banting skillfully captured the quintessential Canadian winter experience of shovelling after a heavy snowfall.

The small town of Cobalt is situated in the district of Timiskaming, Ontario, and currently has a population of slightly over one thousand inhabitants. Interestingly, at the time when Banting visited, Cobalt would have been a much more populous and thriving town. In the early 1900s, the area was heavily mined for silver and cobalt. By 1910, it became one of the largest producers of silver in the world, and Cobalt’s population soared to over ten thousand. Mining continued into the 1930s before it declined significantly, and since the 1980s there have been no operating mines in the area. “Cobalt” serves as an important souvenir, documenting a fleeting moment in the history of one of Canada’s important towns of yesteryear.

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Frederick Grant Banting
(1891 - 1941)

Born in 1891 in Alliston, Ontario, Frederick Banting studied medicine at the University of Toronto. He received his MB degree in 1916 and immediately joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps and was sent overseas. He was wounded in France and awarded the Military Cross for bravery. Following the first World War, he continued his medical studies, receiving his M.D. degree in 1922. He had a particular interest in diabetes. Together with his assistant, Charles Best, Banting started the work which would lead to the lifesaving discovery of insulin. For this innovation, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923. After the war, he had briefly set up a practice in London, Ontario. The practice was slow in getting started, so with some time on his hands, he was gripped with an urge to paint. This came about one day, when he happened by a London shop, with a display of artist’s paints in the window. He purchased them and embarked on teaching himself to paint. As his medical career took off, he had little time to devote to this passion, but after winning the Nobel Prize, he was able to dedicate some time to art. He became a collector as well as a painter. In 1927, he approached A.Y. Jackson, wishing to purchase one of his war sketches. This was the beginning of a long friendship. He saw one of Lawren Harris’ canvases and went to the artist’s studio to discuss this work and they became friends. Banting shared an appreciation of the beauty of the rugged Canadian landscape with both artists.

That same year, Jackson and Banting went on their first sketching excursion together. They travelled to St-Jean Port Jolie, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence. There, Banting received his first instruction in plein air landscape painting technique from Jackson. He had a natural aptitude and his works were accepted at juried exhibitions, but he was always afraid that his work had been accepted because of his reputation as a scientist, rather than its own merit. After a time, he no longer submitted works for exhibition. He was also reluctant to sell his paintings. He had an ingenious way of supporting the artists of his acquaintance. When a collector indicated a wish to purchase one of his paintings, he instructed them to purchase a work from another local artist, and he would then exchange it for one of his own works.

In July of 1927, Banting travelled with Jackson to the Arctic. On a trip lasting two and a half months, they encountered a variety of weather and light conditions in the Arctic landscape. They returned with many sketches. The one Jackson painted of Bache Post was donated to the National Gallery of Canada by the Minister of the Interior. Over the years Banting accompanied Jackson on many sketching trips. At different times, they returned to the North shore of the St. Lawrence, travelled to the Great Slave Lake area, and visited the Group of Seven haunt, Georgian Bay. At times they were joined by other artists. Banting thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor painting experience. He invented a system for getting his completed sketches home, without spoiling them, while they were still wet. He placed match sticks between the panels as spacers, a trick that A.Y. Jackson continued to use for the rest of his career. Jackson spoke of Banting’s great determination and hard work on these sketching trips, often getting up to sketch long before breakfast.

When the Second World War began, he began to devote himself exclusively to medical research, serving as a medical liaison officer between the British and North American medical services.