Artwork by Franklin Carmichael,  Orillia (1915)

Franklin Carmichael
Orillia (1915)

oil on double board
titled, dated 1915, inscribed “OS-2-A” with the estate stamp on the reverse
8.25 x 10.5 ins ( 21 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$40,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $144,000.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Family of the artist
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
J.E.H. MacDonald Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
The youngest original member of the Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael was born in Orillia, Ontario in 1890. As a teenager interested in the arts, he worked in his father’s carriage-making shop as a striper. In decorating the carriages he practiced his design, drawing, and colouring skills. Carmichael apprenticed at the commercial art firm Grip Limited in Toronto in 1911, while taking night classes at the Ontario College of Art with William Cruickshank and George Agnew Reid. During this time, he also took classes at the Toronto Technical School, where he studied alongside Gustav Hahn.

From 1913 to 1914 Carmichael studied in Antwerp, Belgium at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, however he shortly returned to Canada due in part to the war. On his return, he began painting on weekends with colleagues Tom Thomson, J.E.H MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. During the fall of 1914, he moved into the Studio Building where he shared a space with Thomson over the winter.

“Orillia” was painted during these seminal early years of his career prior to the formation of the Group of Seven, while Carmichael was sharing a studio with Thomson. He completed the work in the winter of 1915, before his twenty-fifth birthday. A peaceful and delicately- rendered painting, “Orillia” demonstrates Carmichael’s talent from a young age. The artist uses a monochromatic colour palette of muted blues and greys to depict the winter forest scene, with the fir trees partially covered by snow serving as the only area of contrast. His painterly approach shows the influence of European Impressionism and former teacher George Reid. The background is composed of loose and separated brushstrokes and is nearly abstract, creating a screen of trees dappled with light and shadow.

Orillia held a special place for Carmichael, for it was his birthplace (and where he is buried) and the subject of numerous sketches, watercolours and oils throughout his career. The town provided him with picturesque forest and lakefront scenery that served as endless inspiration.

The year 1915 was also an important one for Carmichael because it was when he married his wife, Ada Lillian Went. Tom Thomson invited Carmichael on a sketching trip to Algonquin Park in the fall of that year, but he was unable to attend due to his wedding. During this time, Carmichael was balancing his personal life with his passion for art and eagerness to bring change to the Canadian art tradition. He and the future members of the group were frustrated by their initial attempts to capture the untouched “savage” land of Canada, with the particular characteristics of the land difficult to capture in the then-dominant European tradition.

It would be once the group discovered the paintings of the Scandinavian landscape that they would begin to move in a coherent direction. According to J.E.H. MacDonald, the Scandinavian painters “seemed to be a lot of men not trying to express themselves so much as trying to express something that took hold of themselves. The painters began with nature rather than with art.” “Orillia” demonstrates Carmichael’s early efforts at showcasing the ‘untouched “savage” land’ of his hometown, foreshadowing the groundbreaking movement that was soon to come.

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Franklin Carmichael
(1890 - 1945) Group of Seven, OSA, RCA, CSPWC

Born in Orillia, Ontario, he worked for his father who was a carriage maker and received a good part of his early training in design from him. He took painting lessons from Canon Greene (believed to be one of the parsons on which Stephen Leacock based the character of Dean Drone in “Sunshine Sketches”). In 1901 he met Willian J. Wood another Canadian artist who like himself was aspiring to become a full time painter. Carmichael gave continued encouragement to Wood throughout his life.

In 1911 Carmichael arrived in Toronto and attended the Ontario College of Art where he studied under William Cruikshank and G.A. Reid, also at the Toronto Central Technical School under Gustav Hahn. He began an apprenticeship at the Grip Engraving firm in 1911 where he met Thomson, Lismer, McDonald, Varley and others with whom he sketched on week ends and holidays. A.Y. Jackson in his autobiography described Carmichael in these words, “Frank Carmichael was the youngest member of the original Group, a lyrical painter of great ability and a fine craftsman. He was never free to devote all his time to painting...” It was in 1913 however, that Carmichael had saved enough money to study in l'Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp, Belgium, under Isidor Apsomer and G. Van Du Leben. On his return to Toronto in the winter of 1914-15 he shared accommodation in the Studio Building with Tom Thomson until he married and established a home.

In the following years he worked for Rous and Mann and Sampson-Matthews. As art director for one of these firms he had as an assistant, A.J. Casson from 1919 to 1926. He was a successful industrial designer with a speciality in kitchen utensils and has been credited with introducing the oval dish pan for a steelwares firm. In his paintings he chose Northern Ontario landscapes, and villages of trim box like homes. In 1925 Carmichael helped form the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour with A.J. Casson and F.H. Brigden, a society which kept alive interest and development in this medium.

Paul Duval in his book “Group of Seven Drawings” noted Carmichael was better known for his graphic art and wood engravings, particularly in book illustration. He designed and illustrated Grace Campbell “The Higher Hill” all published by Collins of Canada. Most of his painting before 1925 was done in oils, but after that date he turned to watercolours, block prints, and engravings.

He won a silver medal in 1926 at the Sesquicentennial Exposition. In 1932 A.H. Robson wrote, “...His principal reputation to-day rests upon his water-colour paintings in which the medium he has attained an enviable reputation of organization, beauty of design, and the charm of subtle and refined colour.” This was written in the year that Carmichael left the commercial art field for a teaching post at the Ontario College of Art where he remained head of the Graphic and Commercial Art Department until his death.

Keenly interested in music he played the bassoon, cello and flute, and took part in the University Orchestra presentations and other group performances. In 1936 he exhibited in the Group of Seven retrospective show in Toronto. A memorial exhibition of his paintings, and woodcuts was held at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1947. Another exhibition of his work at the Mount Slavein School, Orillia, in 1960. He is represented in the collections of The Art Gallery of Ontario, Hart House, University of Toronto; Vancouver Art Gallery; St. Hilda's College Toronto; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery of Canada by a dozen or more paintings; National Gallery of South Africa, and in many private collections.

He was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1917) (Pres. 1938); Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (1925 Founding Member); Canadian Group of Painters (1933 Founding Member); Royal Canadian Academy (ARCA 1935 RCA 1938); Arts and Letters Club, Toronto.

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