Lot #105

Frank Hennessey
March Day in the Gatineau

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1940 lower left; titled on a gallery label on the reverse
20 x 24 ins ( 50.8 x 61 cms )

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Provenance:
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal
Private Collection, Ottawa

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Frank Charles Hennessey
(1894 - 1941)

Born in Ottawa, Ontario, he did nature study drawings which were reproduced in “The Ottawa Journal” when he was only six. He later attended St. Patrick's School; Ottawa Collegiate and, and the age of 14, accompanied Captain J.E. Bernier on an exploration trip in the Arctic and wintered at Winter Harbour, Melville Island. Hennessey on this trip was assistant naturalist and artist to the expedition. W.Q. Ketchum of “The Ottawa Journal” noted his arctic work as follows, “Hennessey during his sojourn in the Far North secured specimens of fauna and flora, that have long been treasured in the National Museum. It is recalled by the artist's friends that dire results were predicted for Hennessey's educational career should he interrupt it by the trip to the Arctic. But he went and returned to the envy of all his classmates and took the annual examinations in his stride.”

Hennessey went on to study at Albion College, Albion, Michigan, USA, where he graduated with his Bachelor of Arts degree. In his youth he was good at hockey and football but was also interested in studying birds and nature in general. He broke both his arms while attempting to climb trees during his study of birds. From 1913 to 1915 he was associated with the Geological Survey of Canada and produced illustrations for “Birds of Eastern Canada” by P.A. Taverner which was used in schools as a standard text. Subsequently, he illustrated “Birds of Canada” and “Birds of Western Canada” also by Taverner. From 1915 to 1917 he was an inspector of explosives with the Imperial Munitions Board. In 1921 he joined the entomology division o the Department of Agriculture in the Science Service section where he continued to work until his death.

Of his many trips to the wilds, Hennessey found the Algonquin country an ideal sketching ground. It was one of these paintings of Algonquin which was chosen for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925 and it travelled with the show throughout Britain. This painting was called “The Loon” and was executed in blue, grey, and orange colours with exceptionally fine luminous effects, so much so that the authorities of the Sheffield Art Gallery purchased it the following year.

An exhibition of 63 of Hennessey's pastel paintings took place at James Wilson and Company, Ottawa, in 1932 when “The Ottawa Citizen” noted, “These scenes are set down in straightforward manner, but with a singular vividness,” while “The Ottawa Journal” noted “There are 69 canvases of varying sizes to be seen and there is not once of them which would not be an addition to any artistic living room.” It was during this year that he became a member of the Ontario Society of Artist's. In 1934 he was elected an Associate of The Royal Canadian Academy as were F.H. Brigden, Arthur Heming, Edwin Holgate, and LAC Panton. His exhibition at James Wilson and Company in 1936 was noted by “The Ottawa Journal” as follows, “In one phase he has no superior. It would be impossible for any draughtsman or colourist to depict our woods, streams and hills in Winter with more truth, beauty and understanding. This is high praise. Ut how many artists have shown us snow like his? White snow, blue snow, cold snow, warm snow, metallic snow and glowing snow lying in hushed loveliness of the hills as magical in sunlight as the sumptuous colours of mid-Summer. What artists has surpassed his glorious shadows on that snow, shadows which are masterly in their interpretive exactitude?” He exhibited at Wilson and Son almost annually.

In 1938, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (London, England) and during the same year his “Gatineau Landscape” which was exhibited at the Coronation show and later in Australia, was purchased by an english collector. By 1940, Hennessey was exhibiting at the Stevens Art Gallery in Montreal where his work was received with equal enthusiasm by the Montreal “Gazette” who devoted almost a full column to his exhibit with the opening statement, “This Ottawa artist whose paintings are attracting an ever-growing number of admirers, thoroughly understands handling these coloured chalks, and his direct and confident method of attack, crisp expressive stroke and clean colour are qualities to be appreciated...He is a strong admirer of the winter and of that brief period which follows, when rafts ice, fast water and muddy banks spell the Spring break-up.” His oils are equally successful and almost unbelievably alive through their luminous qualities.

In November of 1941, at the age of 47, Frank Hennessey was found dead in his studio apartment with his gun by his side. He had left a note to his relatives regarding his personal property. Almost coinciding with his untimely death was his appointment to full membership in the Royal Canadian Academy. What caused this tragedy? Reports that he was going blind, going deaf and that he was suffering from severe depression following the death of his mother, were mentioned in the newspapers and “The Ottawa Citizen” noted “Mrs. Hennessey played a great part in the advance of her son...The bond between them was very close, and much of his interest in live vanished after her death.” A memorial exhibition of his pastels and oils was held in April of 1943 at the Galleries of J. Merritt Malloney, Toronto. One well-known artist attending the exhibition purchased one of his pastels and was quoted by the “Toronto Daily Star”, “But that man's a better painter than I am—not just because he plays his colour-harmonies with pastels either...That Ottawa man had a great sensitive brain behind his optics.”

Collectors of his paintings include: The National Gallery of Canada; The Sheffield Art Gallery (England); The Hall of Nations (Asbury Park, NJ, USA); The Art Gallery of Ontario; The Art Association of Montreal; The Museum of the Province of Quebec; and in many private collections in Canada, New Zealand, United States, German, Japan and others.

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