Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  October Morning, Épisy (1909)

A.Y. Jackson
October Morning, Épisy (1909)

oil on canvas
signed lower right; signed, titled, dated 1909 and inscribed “810”, “2158”, “Exhibited at Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, Liverpool”, “No. 1” and “His Frame” (struck) on the stretcher; titled and inscribed “Owned by EJ Jackson, Lethbridge” on a label on the stretcher
21.5 x 25.5 ins ( 54.6 x 64.8 cms )

Auction Estimate: $80,000.00$60,000.00 - $80,000.00

Price Realized $90,000.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Ernest Jackson, Lethbridge (brother of the artist)
By descent to Isobel & Bill MacClure, Calgary
Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
Ontario Society of Artists 38th Annual Exhibition, Art Museum of Toronto, Public Library Building, from March 5, 1910, no. 67 as “November Morning, Ipisy” [sic]
26th Spring Exhibition, Art Association of Montreal, April 4-23, 1920, no. 193 as “November Morning, Episy”
Loan Exhibition, Edmonton Museum of Arts, October 14-19, 1929, no. 37 as “French Landscape”
A.Y. Jackson Paintings 1902-1953, Art Gallery of Toronto, October - November 1953 and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, December 1953 - January 1954, no. 4 as “Autumn Morning, Episy” ca. 1912 Trailblazer Donor Event, Glenbow Museum, Calgary, May 12, 1999
Naomi Jackson Groves Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa J.E.H. MacDonald fonds, McCord Museum, Montreal
Dr. James MacCallum Fonds, Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
“A.Y. Jackson Section 3 – Collections,” Who’s Who in Ontario Art Part 21, Toronto, 1954, unpaginated, as “Autumn Morning, Episy”
Marius Barbeau fonds, Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau
A.Y. Jackson, A Painter’s Country, 1958, pages 10-12
Rosemarie Tovell, “A.Y. Jackson in France, Belgium and Holland. A 1909 Sketchbook,” in National Gallery of Canada Annual Bulletin 2, Ottawa, 1997, reproduced, pages 46-48
Wayne Larsen, A.Y. Jackson The Life of a Landscape Painter, Toronto, 2009, pages 32 and 232 as “Autumn Morning, Episy”
Four, almost leafless, Lombardy poplars crown the soft rise of the foreground. The low, morning sun casts shadows from lower left, creating a dynamic entry into the composition. Open green fields lead to a clump of trees in the centre and to the village and hills beyond. The light is clear, forms are firm. The textured brushwork in the foreground superbly evokes the rough earth of the farmland, echoing the dappled blues in the sky. Painted in the last months of his first extended period of study in France, “October Morning, Épisy” is most likely one of the “early morning sunlight things” Jackson told his mother he had started in his letter of 14 September 1909. In the same letter he informed his mother that he intended staying at Épisy until 25 November.

Of all the members of the future Group of Seven, A.Y. Jackson had the most extensive European experience and education. In the summer of 1905 he first crossed the Atlantic, working on a cattle boat with his brother Henry, and visited museums in England, France and Belgium. In September 1907 he returned to Paris to further his artistic education at the Académie Julian and would again work in France from September 1911 to February 1913.

Instruction at the Académie Julian concentrated on drawing, not painting, and figure work rather than landscape. But Jackson didn’t stay in Paris. From September 1907 to December 1909 he travelled in France, Italy, Belgium and Holland, seeing as much art as he could and spending extended periods in French villages to paint. On 20 November 1908 he wrote to his brother Henry from Étaples in the Pas- de-Calais. “I would like to do more drawing in the schools as it would help me if I went back to commercial work but they don’t teach you to paint. ... Up to the present I have done nothing wonderful, but I have learned a great deal. Probably if I had started in to make sketches they would have been better ones, for getting theories and principles into your head mixes you up for a long time, and makes you too conscious of what you are doing, and I had to find out many things I should have known many years ago, and of course studying both landscape and figure is not the quickest method. But it is not lost time... I have made heaps of [sketches] to get into the way of catching effects, and have worked over most of them – there are probably five layers on some panels.” At this point in his career, the intent of sketching in oils was not to make pictures but to learn the techniques of painting through repeated practice and increased observation in association with fellow artists.

In April 1909 Jackson moved to Épisy accompanied by the New Zealand artist Frederick Porter. On 9 April he wrote to his mother, “Épisy is a little village of about sixty families on the River Loing and the canal Loing and near the south edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau. ... The country is simply ripping, you don’t need to go more than a hundred yards to sketch....” In his autobiography, “A Painter’s Country”, Jackson devotes the better part of his account of his stay in Épisy to Madame and Monsieur Goix, farmers with whom he lived in the absence of a hotel or pension. But there was much to paint, including the “Canal du Loing”, the subject of the canvas “Canal du Loing near Épisy”, now in the National Gallery of Canada (acc. no. 23538).

In his letters Jackson repeatedly writes about his painting production, most overpainted, but at the same time he was drawing in a sketchpad, both at Épisy in the spring and fall of 1909 and during his travels in Holland and Belgium in July and August. Rosemarie Tovell has given a detailed account of his travels and artistic activity that year based on the content of that sketchbook, the sole to have survived intact and now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada (acc. no. 18686).

Among the many drawings in this sketchbook is a finished compositional drawing for “October Morning, Épisy”, as well as details for the canvas “Canal du Loing near Épisy”. While Jackson informed his niece and biographer, the art historian Naomi Jackson Groves, that the latter canvas was painted out-of-doors, or en plein-air, Tovell argues that the former was a studio piece worked up from an intermediate oil sketch. Yet Naomi Groves, in her unpublished biography of A.Y. Jackson, noted that the original owner of “October Morning, Épisy”, the artist’s brother Ernest Jackson, affirmed that this canvas had also been painted “en plein-air”.

Numerous references support the argument that, prior to the spring of 1914, Jackson was a “plein-air” painter. Sketching in oils was merely a means of catching effects of light and colour, “mostly small studies, which I paint over when I get finished” (24 May 1908). When asked by his cousin Charles Clement whether he should work from pencil notes and preliminary sketches or directly on the canvas, a method largely followed by the French Impressionists, Jackson replied, “The direct method is generally used nowadays, and for a student is certainly preferable” (1 October 1910). From Katwijk, Holland he wrote to his mother on 28 July 1909 that he had been painting in the rain and his “canvas and palette got too wet to do anything.” From Sweetsburg, Quebec on 28 March 1910 he wrote, “Have not done much during the last week, subjects are scarce. Found a good one on Friday but the wind was blowing so hard it blew my easel down every time I put it up.” From Saint Malo he wrote, “We have done nothing but sketch. ... it’s too civilized round here and it is not much of a place for taking out canvases” (10 November 1911), from Picquigny, “No sketching this trip, only canvases” (4 April 1912), and from Carhaix, “Sky was rosy pink yesterday so I grabbed my canvases & planted my easel by the side of the river and painted like a cyclone.” (3 January 1913). In his autobiography Jackson praised the attractions of Épisy. “There was much to paint there: the Canal, bordered with Picardy poplars, old farms, the gently rolling country, the barges towed by mules along the canal...all of it close enough at hand, so that we could take our canvases out into the fields.”

Painting “en plein-air” did not mean that his canvases were worked out in one session. Jackson referred to having begun some “early morning things” in September but this canvas was most likely not completed until November as suggested by its original exhibited title, “November Morning, Épisy”.

To the best of my knowledge, with one exception, no preparatory sketch has been identified for any European or Canadian canvas Jackson painted before the spring of 1914. The canvases were not worked up from “plein-air” sketches but painted out in nature. The one exception I have found is the 1909 canvas “Épisy on the Loing”, painted from the oil sketch Sunrise, “Épisy sur Loing”, both in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (acc. nos. 1970.9 and 1985.64).

The absence of identified oil studies for Jackson’s early European canvases may in part be explained by his action of August 1911 prior to his return to France. On 26 August he wrote to his cousin Florence Clement at Portage Point on Georgian Bay, “I swooped down like a destroying angel on my sketches, and never let up until 160 had been put where nobody will ever see them again. There are not many left now, but you see I am going to start all over again and make better ones.” But would he have destroyed an oil sketch in which he had seen the potential for a larger composition?

If his practice was to work out the composition in a drawing, as he did for “October Morning, Épisy”, the absence of identified drawings for other early canvases may be partially explained by the dismemberment of his sketchbooks and their sale over the years. As previously noted, the National Gallery sketchbook, donated by the family of Charles Clement, is the only early one to have survived intact. But it is more likely that the canvases were fully conceived on the easel out-of-doors, in front of the motifs.

In this instance Jackson made important modifications working from the drawing to the canvas, creating a more dynamic composition. The left and right foreground trees are no longer parallel. The trees at the right are set further back and the shadows enliven the surface and lead the eye into the pictorial space, an effect enhanced by the more distant group of trees. In her unpublished biography of her uncle, Naomi Jackson Groves observed that “the two inner trees are kept high in tone while the outer trees are less emphatic....The sheen of early morning sunlight on rich autumnal greens and the soft grey-blues...give this carefully constructed landscape a Corot-like quality...too firm in delineation to be considered fully impressionistic.”

Jackson was back in Montreal to join his family for Christmas in December 1909. The following February and March he painted at Sweetsburg, Quebec, where, as previously noted, the wind blew down his easel. “October Morning, Épisy” is the precursor of one of Jackson’s most famous canvases, “The Edge of the Maple Wood”, painted out-of- doors at Sweetsburg in March 1910. In both canvases, foreground shadows lead us into the pictorial space that is framed by trees left and right. His sensitivity to the differing effects of light in varying landscapes is evident in the two compositions. The French autumn light is cooler and clearer while the early spring light in the maple wood is more diffused. In the latter canvas the shadow leads in from the centre of the composition and the space is more intimate. It was of course this canvas that attracted the attention of the Toronto painters and, when purchased by Lawren Harris, instigated Jackson’s move to Toronto. Thus began the history of the Group of Seven, a history that would not have happened without Jackson’s extensive experience studying and painting in France.

Jackson’s move to Toronto would also lead to a change in his painting practice and the end of painting canvases “en plein-air”. In late February 1914 he first painted in Algonquin Park. From Mowat on Canoe Lake he wrote to J.E.H. MacDonald on 23 February, “Have about a dozen sketches, some made out[doors] & some in. Two canvases started but it’s too cold to work out with them. Cold as the devil in the mornings. This a.m. thirty below zero...Supply yourself with plenty of madder and blue and white. My panels seem to be all right so far, they stand cold anyway.” And on 8 March he wrote to Dr. James MacCallum, “The country here is glorious, heaps of stuff to paint if the conditions would let you work. The first two weeks there was plenty of sunlight but cold. 20 below zero was a nice mild day....I hope to start some canvases as soon as the weather clears. I have ten pieces and I’ll stay here until they are done.” The challenges of painting a canvas in the Canadian winter demanded a change of procedure. While the 1914 canvas “Near Canoe Lake (In the North Country)” (Art Gallery of Hamilton, acc. no. 48.73) was painted out-of-doors, “Frozen Lake, Early Spring, Algonquin Park” (National Gallery of Canada, acc. no. 4732), also of 1914, was worked up from an oil sketch painted in Algonquin Park in April 1914 (sold at auction in November 2016). From now on Jackson would revert to an earlier tradition well established in French art, working up his canvases in his studio from oil sketches painted direct from nature “en plein-air”.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art with the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven - Art for a Nation,” for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay

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Alexander Young Jackson
(1882 - 1974) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters, OSA, RCA

Born in Montreal, Alexander Young Jackson left school at the age of twelve and began work at a Montreal printing firm. In 1906, he undertook art studies at the Art Institute in Chicago. The following year he enrolled at the Académie Julian where he studied under Jean Paul Laurens for six months, then he travelled to Italy with others where they visited galleries in Rome, Florence and Venice. They returned to France and Jackson went to the village of Episy with a fellow student named Porter with whom he had lived in Paris. Jackson found much to paint at Episy: old farms, rolling country, the canal where barges were towed by mules, and for the first time (in France) he lived with people close to the land.

He left France when his funds were low and returned to Canada in 1910 where the “clear crisp air and sharp shadows” of Sweetsburg, Quebec, became the subject of his canvas “Edge of the Maple Wood”. During this period his painting was strongly influenced by the Impressionists. Then the work of Canadian artists Cullen and Morrice led him further in the discoveries of snow and other elements of Canadian subject matter which were to become an integral part of his work throughout his life. After his return to Canada, Jackson took up residence in Montreal and made many sketching trips to the surrounding countryside. While at Emileville he received a letter from a J.E.H. MacDonald of Toronto who wanted to purchase his “Edge of the Maple Wood” on behalf of a third party, Lawren Harris. Jackson sold the picture and later met MacDonald in Toronto. In Toronto he also met, through MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley and other members of the Arts and Letters Club who were employed by the Grip Engraving Company as commercial artists. Jackson later went to Georgian Bay to sketch and was visited there by Dr. James MacCallum, a friend of Lawren Harris. MacCallum, who had a summer home at the Bay, offered Jackson a place to work in the ‘Studio Building’ which MacCallum and Lawren Harris were having built for Canadian artists in Toronto. In the meantime Jackson was invited to stay at MacCallum’s summer home. Jackson’s production was good; he did many sketches and a number of canvases, one being the “Maple in the Pine Woods” which was later to bring a storm of criticism at a Group of Seven exhibition.

On his return to Toronto, Jackson stayed at Lawren Harris’ studio in Toronto until the Studio Building was completed. There one day he was introduced to Tom Thomson who had accompanied Dr. MacCallum on a visit. Thomson was also an employee of the Grip Engraving Company. The two moved into the Studio Building in January 1914 and shared a studio. Thomson had soon inspired Jackson to visit Algonquin Park in February and March of 1914. Jackson also sketched that year with J.E.H. MacDonald and J.W. Beatty. In 1915, Jackson enlisted as a private in the 60th Battalion and after being wounded, returned later to the front as Lieutenant with Canadian War Records. As a war artist he created one of the finest collections of war paintings our nation possesses.

In 1919 he went to Algoma with J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris and Franz Johnston, making use of a railway box car as a studio which Harris had arranged. During that year, Jackson became a full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. On May 7th, 1920, the first exhibition of the Group of Seven opened at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The Group continued to exhibit until 1931. Each exhibition of the Group was met with great protest. In July of 1927 Jackson and Dr. Frederick Banting went north on the steamer ‘Beothic’ which had been chartered by the government to deliver supplies to the RCMP posts and to carry relief constables to the posts. They sketched at Pond Inlet, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island and other arctic locations. Jackson’s arctic sketches were exhibited at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Jackson's great sense of adventure carried him from the east coast across Canada to the Rocky Mountains of the west. He made regular sketching trips to Quebec every spring and travelled to the far regions of Canada during the summer, including the Canadian Arctic. In the fall he would return to the Studio Building in Toronto (where he lived until 1955), spending the winters painting canvases. He continued this active lifestyle until he was in his eighties.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979