Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Saint-Tite-des-Caps

A.Y. Jackson

oil on canvas
signed lower left; signed, titled, dated “April 1946” and inscribed “Studio Building; Severn St.,Toronto” on the stretcher
19 x 24 ins ( 48.3 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $120,000.00$80,000.00 - $120,000.00

Price Realized $96,000.00
Sale date: June 15th 2022

Kenneth G. Heffel, Vancouver
Private Collection, Montreal
Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection, Calgary
Joyner Canadian Fine Art, auction catalogue, Toronto, May 29, 2001, unpaginated, Lot 19, the sketch for this canvas reproduced
N.J. Groves, ‘Chronology’, in Dennis Reid, “Alberta Rhythm: The Later Work of A.Y. Jackson”, Toronto, 1982, page 94
A.Y. Jackson, “A Painter’s Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson”, Toronto, 1958, pages 63-64
The landscapes of rural Quebec are A.Y. Jackson’s signature subjects. While he had painted in the Eastern Townships before World War I, it was only in February and March 1921 that he painted on the Lower Saint Lawrence. Over the subsequent decades he made almost annual forays in late winter and early spring, painting in the many small villages along the north and south shores.

In April 1928 he first painted at Saint-Tite-des-Caps with Randolph Hewton and Albert Robinson. The relationships between the landscape and the older, rural, Quebec architecture was a constant preoccupation for the artist, but as Jackson wrote in his autobiography “A Painter’s Country”, “One of the places we loved to paint was St. Tite des Caps on Cap Tourmente, a high plateau, forty miles below Quebec. It was not one of the old villages, but it lay in a hollow encircled by hills, and we could look down on it from several directions. The snow lingered there when it had gone in most other places...It was in this village that Crawley made the film ‘Canadian Landscape’ [for the National Film Board of Canada in 1941].”

Each village and each terrain posed its own artistic challenges. On 9 April 1934 Jackson wrote from Saint-Tite to fellow artist Sarah Robertson (letter in the National Gallery of Canada), “I came here instead of going to St. Fidele, perhaps because I could not find much to do when I was here before. It’s a country that looks great until you try to paint it, then you find it won’t compose. It just won’t. It is too scattered and no fundamental shapes and all the old barns have disappeared since Randolph and Ab and I were here last.” On 19 April 1937 he again regretted the loss of the old architecture in a letter to Harry McCurry, Assistant Director of the National Gallery of Canada. “Left St. Tite Saturday morning, still friz up and piles of snow. I got a lot of sketches. It’s the third squeezing I’ve given the place and its about all it will yield because they keep tearing down their houses and barns which hurries up the depletion state.”

Undaunted, or perhaps challenged, by the changing landscape, Jackson returned to Saint-Tite with Randolph Hewton in March 1946. “We, Hewton and I, are very comfortably installed,” he wrote to Harry McCurry on 27 March. “The old hotel where they took the shots of the card game in the movie was burnt down a year ago and the old people have gone away...We still have snow but it has been disappearing rapidly. We need cold weather to hold it. The movie was taken the middle of April with lots of snow. However it has been sunny and we are hard at work. Lots of new houses and barns and the old ones are in the minority. They will all be gone in the next three or four years as it has become a busy little place, lots of snowmobiles.” The weather held and on 7 April Jackson painted the oil sketch for this canvas. By 12 April he was back visiting his family in Montreal. “I got a lot of work done, lots of snow and good weather to paint in. I did not think I could squeeze another bunch of sketches out of the place. Going to see Stern about my forthcoming show now.” Two Saint-Tite sketches dated March 1946 were included in the artist’s solo exhibition at Montreal’s Dominion Gallery in May.

If the loss of the old buildings posed its own challenges, it was really the constantly changing snow conditions that attracted Jackson. “Over the fields and in the woods snow still lies deep,” he wrote in the 1929 Ontario College of Art annual, Tangent. “Slowly settling down, the frost at night hardens it up, and it takes the sun the whole morning to get to where he left off the day before, and then, after a hard day’s thaw, it clouds up and starts another little snow storm. Then there are the winds, which have a lot to do with artists...But the artist will always find interesting relationships, and with the help of the snow, which takes the stiff lines away, covers up unwanted detail and with light and shadow playing over it, there will be problems to solve. The little vicissitudes of the artist might include such items [as], ‘Fresh snow – light so glaring you had to go round with your eyes closed, or else wear smoked glasses.’ ‘Rained and froze in the night, the whole country covered with icing; shadows all shattered by reflections; had to wait three days for the sun to melt it off.’ ‘Colorless snow and sky alike. Farms and barns on hilltops floating in space.’”

In both the oil sketch (sold Joyner Fine Art, Toronto, 29 May 2001, lot 19) and the canvas, “Saint-Tite-des-Caps”, wet snow slowly recedes from the fences, boulders and fields to reveal the brown earth below. The foreground fence is the dominant element of the composition leading the eye from the lower right to the left side of the canvas, then along the far fence to the church upper right. Architecture plays a diminutive role here. Instead, the meandering line of houses on the crest of the field forms one element of the rolling rhythm that characterizes the entire canvas - fences, fields, village, hills and sky. The bright red of the sapling in the foreground accentuates the subtle contrasts of whites, greens, purples, yellows and browns in the fields, framed by the purple hills and grey sky.

On 30 January 1942, Arthur Lismer addressed Jackson’s admirers at the Art Gallery of Toronto on the occasion of the latter’s reception of an LL.D. from Queen’s University. “This abundant rhythm of land, weather and plastic space is Jackson’s own contribution. It fights eloquently against the Canadian habit of teaching rivers to “run down pipes,” and making “the road [...] straight” as a literal echo of our puritanical upbringing, and an ugly echo too. Jackson looks to the hills of Ontario and the roads of Quebec, and to the sky and lakes and streams for his symphonic canvases. From his close expressed in a thousand sketches, he has taught himself to see design in motion – he has moved the classical calm and symmetrical static dignity of balanced shapes into newer and more surprising elements of design... these are the marks of a master.”

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.

Share this item with your friends

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