Artwork by Nicholas de Grandmaison,  Untitled Portrait

Nicholas D. Grandmaison
Untitled Portrait

signed lower right
22 x 16 ins ( 55.9 x 40.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $12,000.00$8,000.00 - $12,000.00

Price Realized $8,400.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2021

Gallery One, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Hugh Dempsey, “History in Their Blood: The Indian Portraits of Nicholas De Grandmaison”, Vancouver, 1982, page 46
Nicholas de Grandmaison spent four years in a German prisoner of war camp during the First World War, interned with Allied officers from France, Great Britain, and other countries. His military training had given him the basic skills of drawing regarding cartography and topography, but his talent for portraiture developed during this period as he sketched fellow prisoners and even German officers. After the war, the artist moved to Manitoba to work as a farm worker, before shifting to Winnipeg to begin his artistic career as a portraitist. By 1930 De Grandmaison was finding success and exploring farther afield, portraying subjects he encountered on his excursions – trappers, prospector, fur traders, Métis and Indigenous peoples. Blood 148, a First Nations reserve in Alberta, became his main source of inspiration. He frequently visited to paint the people of the Kainai Nation, or Blood Tribe.

De Grandmaison devoted his life to recording the faces of the Kainai Nation. “I wish to preserve their faces for posterity”, he wrote, “I shall paint them until I die.” Using pastel paper imported from France and Grumbachers pastels, he recorded the fine nuances and warm textures of the faces of these figures, never allowing clothing to distract. The vitality of the man depicted in “Untitled Portrait’ is captured with loose strokes of pink and purple in the facial form, while flourishes of ochre and turquoise add strong shadows. In the thoughtful lines of the brow, De Grandmaison has acutely captured his sitter’s razor-sharp and strong personality.

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Nicholas de Grandmaison
(1892 - 1978) RCA, Order of Canada

Born in Russia, he began to paint on the walls of his home when he was ten. He completed high school and went into the Russian Army during the First World War when he was taken prisoner and kept in a prisoner of war camp. After the war, he made his way to England where he studied art at the St. John's Wood Art School in London and for a while in Paris.

He came to Canada in 1923 and settled in Banff, Alberta. He started painting in oils but switched to pastels around 1925 which he found more suitable for his travels on the Prairies. He specialized in the portraits of North American Indians and travelled to reservations in the Canadian west and as far south as the Arizona Desert and was the only painter able to persuade High Eagle (last living participant of the Custer massacre) to sit for him (although photos had been taken of this warrior). Perhaps Grandmaison's success in persuading High Eagle to sit for him was due to his great respect for the Indigenous People. When asked why he painted the., he commented, “ me, it is a great honour. I love them as fellow brothers. They have character, colour and history in their blood. I prefer to paint them. They sit quietly and pay attention when you are drawing them...the white man only says, 'Well okay, draw me: I'll give you 15 minutes now and 15 minutes later.' looking at his watch.” This statement inspired the title of a book which records 64 pastel portraits painted between 1930 and 1960. History in their Blood, by Hugh Dempsey, was published in 1982. Grandmaison told an “Edmonton Journal” reporter that he felt that the white man has never been able to understand the full significance of the Indian race, which was now vanishing.

Grandmaison has also painted the portraits of: William Aberhart (1878-1943) Premier of Alberta; C.D. Howe (1886-1960) former Minister of Munitions and Supply of the Federal Cabinet; R.B. Bennett (1870-1947) former Prime Minister of Canada; and members of the Manitoba Law Society.

He is represented in the National Gallery of Canada as well as a number of private collections, and his honors include an associate membership in the Royal Canadian Academy and the Order of Canada. Grandmaison passed away in 1978. His wife was a sculptress and his son a painter.

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