Artwork by Franklin Carmichael,  Study of Trees, Autumn (circa 1920-22)

Franklin Carmichael
Study of Trees, Autumn (circa 1920-22)

oil on beaverboard
signed lower right; signed, titled and inscribed “Sketch” and “OS39” with the artist estate stamp on the reverse
10 x 12 ins ( 25.4 x 30.5 cms )

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

Price Realized $60,000.00
Sale date: June 15th 2022

Family of the artist
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
“Franklin Carmichael: paintings, water colours and prints”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, travelling to Orillia Public Library, Orillia; York Public Library, Toronto; Museum and Art Centre, Sudbury; Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, Owen Sound; Cobourg Art Gallery, Cobourg; Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; Barrie Art Club, Barrie; London Public Library and Art Museum, London, 1970-1971, cat. no. 1
“Franklin Carmichael Centennial Show”, Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, April 1 - May 19, 1990, cat. no. 9
Megan Bice, “Light and Shadow: The Work of Franklin Carmichael”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 1990
It was in 1920, around the time that this sketch was painted, that Franklin Carmichael became one of the founding artists to form Toronto’s landscape painting collective, the Group of Seven (1920- 32). This oil sketch is a classic example of his painting style during the early 1920s. Informed by the loose brushwork of Impressionism, and a palette strong in hue, Carmichael observes the onset of late summer and early fall in a pageantry of autumn colours as oranges and yellows of the changing birch tree leaves peek through in the middle ground. The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson were each engaged by the fall season and for them it was essential to use colour. They explained the matter succinctly in their 1921 and 1922 catalogues statements: “It is as impossible to depict the autumn pageantry of our northern woods with a lead pencil.” Pictures they explained “must speak for themselves...the painter must rely on paint not on adjectives.”

From sketches like this one, Carmichael developed his important easel paintings of autumn, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario’s “Autumn Hillside”, 1920 and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s “Autumn, Orillia”, 1924. In them, Carmichael worked out his ideas for possible enlarged easel paintings. “Study of Trees, Autumn”, a title probably added posthumously to the back of this work since it is not in the artist’s handwriting, is not known to have been developed into an easel painting. Nonetheless, he considered it exhibition ready as he signed it with his rectangular signature bar on the lower right. Carmichael had developed that signature bar in one of his early works of decorated lettering, “Milton on His Blindness” in 1912, held in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

In this sketch are the beginnings of Carmichael’s masterful handling of light and shadow, qualities which would define his work in the 1930s. Using a balanced composition of almost equal land and sky, he created a patchwork of foreground shadows which contrast with the illuminated clearing just before the evergreen trees. Beyond, a screen of deciduous trees, already stripped of fall colour, is contrasted against an almost clear blue sky with one narrow cloud hovering above the horizon. Common to his oils of this period is a pronounced use of secondary colours—here orange and green, made of the primaries red and yellow, and yellow and blue.

Carmichael used several different boards to create his oil sketches. In the twenties, he often worked on an incorporated product called Beaverboard, made of compressed fibreboard building materials. Its advantages include its light weight for plein air sketching. It was widely used in the modern period by artists including American painter Grant Wood (1891-1942). It also easily facilitated inscriptions, as Carmichael made on the verso of this work in black cursive. Rarely did Carmichael give specific or descriptive titles to his sketches in the early twenties, simply calling each one “Sketch” and adding a number to them when they were exhibited to avoid confusion. On the back of his work, he has inscribed “Sketch” above his signature, and to the right the number 10 circled. These may be very important details for in the Group of Seven exhibitions of 1920 and 1921, he showed ten sketches (cats. 5-14) and in 1921 he showed seven sketches (cat. 5-11). Although we can’t be certain, it is possible that sketch “10” was included in either of these exhibitions.

After Carmichael passed away in 1945, it was some time before his work was recognized in solo exhibitions, the first of which took place in his birth town of Orillia, Ontario in 1961, organized by the Orillia Artist’s Guild. An important artist in the Toronto art scene where
he lived for most of his career, his work was also the subject of an important provincial touring exhibition organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1970-71, “Franklin Carmichael: paintings, water colours and prints”, which toured to eight venues. This sketch was included in that exhibit, as well as the Franklin Carmichael Centennial Show, Arts and Letters Club, Toronto in 1990, marking the 100th year of the artist’s birth.

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Franklin Carmichael
(1890 - 1945) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters, 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