Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  Trees Along a River

James W. Morrice
Trees Along a River

oil on canvas
the artist studio stamp on the reverse
6.5 x 9 ins ( 16.5 x 22.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $30,000.00$20,000.00 - $30,000.00

Price Realized $24,000.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2021

Continental Galleries, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
Kastel Gallery, Montreal
Private Collection, Ontario
A lovely little study, quickly put down with very few colours. Long before Morrice discovered the little wooden panels that would bring him fame, he knew how to tell a story with a minimum of means; the composition is simple yet perfect, perhaps inspired by his French teacher Henri Harpignies. A riverbank at the “golden hour”, leaves slowly rustling in the wind; we approach slowly... and finally see the small boat and its passenger quietly waiting... for us? This figure was probably added by the artist to balance all that green, perhaps another lesson from Harpignies, learned in Paris. But this is probably not the Seine (as later titles suggest): such a quiet spot in the countryside is much easier to find in England, even on the Thames, than on the much-built Seine river. Morrice is documented twice in London in 1891 in April; nothing else is known of this sojourn, spare a few small oils on canvas, and two sketchbooks (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), date from that stay; all works – except a drawing of a London street – show the countryside, with no clue as to their location.

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

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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