Artwork by Franklin Carmichael,  Bon Echo

Franklin Carmichael
Bon Echo

oil on panel
inscribed “OS 129” with the estate stamp on the reverse
10 x 12 ins ( 25.4 x 30.5 cms )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$30,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $36,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Family of the artist
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
Robert Stacey and Stan McMullin, “Massanoga: The Art of Bon Echo”, Ontario, 1998, page 74
Bon Echo boasts the provincial park and the imposing cliff known as both Mazinaw Rock and Bon Echo Rock. Nestled in the narrows between the northern and southern parts of Mazinaw Lake, this vast rock formation has a steep and dramatic drop downward into the water, acting as a destination for painters and holiday goers for decades.

Dr. Weston A. Price and his wife, Florence were so taken with the majesty of the rock cliff, that they named the area “Bon Echo” for its acoustic effect and established the Bon Echo Inn. Opened in the summer of 1901, it was a three-storey structure with wrap-around verandahs and fifty beds, boasting a tremendous view of the Mazinaw Rock. The inn was an instant destination and by the early 1920s a new family was in charge; ownership having passed down to Merrill Denison. A progressive man and member of the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, Merrill associated with members of the Group of Seven, drawing both artists and writers to visit the area. The magnificent rock forms inspired several plays and many paintings by Canadian artists, from F.M. Bell-Smith to Frank Johnston, to A.Y. Jackson and Charles Comfort. Countless artists captured the rock with their paintbrush.

In August of 1928, Franklin Carmichael and A.J. Casson visited Bon Echo Inn. The artists had been commissioned to create a series of oil sketches in tones of black and white for advertising purposes. The result was a brochure produced by Sampson-Matthews featuring a work by Carmichael. Stan McMullin aptly remarks on Carmichael’s design for the brochure: “The starlit Big Rock in black, pale green and three shades of blue embodies the artist’s idyllic vision of Canada as the landscape of inspiration.” Carmichael’s connection to commercial art would remain strong throughout his career, the artist spending twenty- one years of his life working as a commercial artist and designer.

Carmichael’s idyllic vision of the landscape extends to this oil sketch. The confident composition in bright colours doesn’t depict the granite cliff dominating the shoreline. Instead, Carmichael has chosen to provide an expansive, almost bird’s-eye view of the inn buildings and the shoreline of Mazinaw Lake, evoking the tranquility of the area so beloved by tourists. Perhaps Carmichael worked up the sketch from watercolours or drawings saved after the 1928 expedition, wishing to revisit this mythic place with his brush. The earthy palette, strong linear details and rhythmic lines of the sketch emulate Carmichael’s graphic sensibility and his study of dualities. Carmichael continually explored in his oeuvre the contrast of light and dark and the contrast of stillness and movement within the wondrous Canadian landscape.

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 a significant 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.

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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