Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  Coast, Brittany

J.W. Morrice
Coast, Brittany

oil on board
J.W. Morrice studio stamp on the reverse
5 x 6 ins ( 12.7 x 15.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $15,000.00$12,000.00 - $15,000.00

Price Realized $45,600.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal
Private Collection, Ontario
Katerina Atanassova, “Morrice: The A.K. Prakash Collection in Trust to the Nation”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2017, page 82
Charles C. Hill, “Morrice A Gift to the Nation: The G. Blair Laing Collection”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1992, page 121
By the beginning of the twentieth century James Wilson Morrice was a recognized and well-known painter. One of his paintings, “Quai des Grands Augustins, Paris” (Musée d’Orsay), was purchased by the French government, while “Fête foraine, Montmartre” was acquired by a Russian collector, Ivan Morozov, at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1904. In the summer of 1906, Morrice spent his time in Dieppe, France and in Le Pouldu and Concarneau in Brittany. While in Le Pouldu, Morrice was in the company of artists, including Gabriel Thompson of England, Robert Henry Logan of America and Mela Muter of Poland. Morrice was to return to the Breton coast again from 1909-1910, where he spent the winter season in a studio in Concarneau – a most productive stay for the artist. Le Pouldu and Concarneau were popular painting sites, Paul Gauguin having produced work in Le Pouldu in 1889 and 1890. Perhaps the admiration that Morrice held for Gauguin initially attracted him to the area. According to Charles C. Hill, “Gauguin had painted the village itself and the surrounding landscape, but what Morrice liked most about Le Pouldu was its ‘fine coast & small beach’.”

“Coast, Brittany”, likely executed between 1906-1910 by Morrice, on one of his sojourns on the Breton coast, is an atmospheric rendering executed with raw luminosity and colouration. Morrice produced various oil sketches of beach landscapes and seascapes, with a keen focus on the cliffs rising in the background and figures dotted along the beach. “Coast, Brittany”, in contrast, is an intimate, diminutive composition. The clouds and the sea are agitated and tinged with strokes of grey and black. The rugged nature of the scene, punctuated by the sweeping curve of the foreground, the dominant cliff at the left and the vastness of the sea, evokes the drama of an impending storm and the solace of the vantage point. Morrice held great affection for seascapes and beach landscapes, executing many works on his trips along the Breton and Norman coasts. As Anne-Marie Bouchard notes, “Morrice fits historically within the wake of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir and, Gustave Caillebotte, Pissarro and Signac, who were obviously partial to seascapes.”

We extend our thanks to Lucie Dorais, Canadian art historian and author of “J.W. Morrice” (National Gallery of Canada, 1985) for her assistance in researching this artwork.

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James Wilson Morrice
(1865 - 1924) RCA

Born in Montreal to a prominent family of textile merchants, Morrice spent most of his life abroad, much of it in Paris. He had gone there to enrol in the Academie Julian, the best-known of the private art schools that lured dozens of young Canadian artists to cross the ocean with the promise of technical proficiency and stylistic sophistication. Soon Morrice was studying with the Barbizon painter Henri Harpignies and looking intently at the pictures of the cutting-edge Nabis members. Affable and gregarious, Morrice was well liked in Paris among the local and emigre vanguard, notably his friends the great Henri Matisse and the influential American painter Robert Henri. He did well, showing in the most prestigious exhibitions of new art, including the Salons, and selling to discerning European collections of the highest rank. If he is remembered mostly in Canada today, it may be because Canadian collectors repatriated most of his pictures after his death, leaving Europeans with little to go on. He had been careful to maintain a reputation at home, showing here regularly and returning frequently for Christmas, which would explain why most of his Canadian pictures are winter scenes. Young Canadian artists held him in considerable esteem during his lifetime for his fearless modernism and his success in Europe. A stylistically hybrid artist, Morrice combined a lush and often dusky Post-Impressionist tone with nonchalant brushwork of a plumb assuredness, softening the blunt structures of his Fauvist friends. What results are paintings as complicated as they are straightforward and often redolent with suppressed emotion. Morrice tends to smallish pictures that draw you in, only to surprise you by their resolute diffidence. Irresistible and remote, his pictures ask for intimacy but keep their distance, like nostalgia, like longing. Morrice ran with a fast crowd of glittering cosmopolitans. Alcoholism got the better of him by the end of his fifties; his health ultimately failed while in North Africa where he had painted with Matisse and where he died at fifty-eight.

Source: National Gallery of Canada