Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Totem Poles, Kitwanga

A.Y. Jackson
Totem Poles, Kitwanga

oil on panel
signed lower left; NJG Inventory No. 653 inscribed on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $90,000.00$70,000.00 - $90,000.00

Price Realized $192,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

The Artist
Marius Barbeau, Ottawa, circa 1927
McCready Gallery, Toronto, 1970
S.C. Torno, 1970
Acquired by the present Private Collection, October 1971
Possibly “Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art Native and Modern”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to Art Gallery of Toronto; Art Association of Montreal, 3 December 1927‒22 April 1928, no. 45, as one of a “Group of Sketches of Indian Villages on the Skeena River”
Possibly “A.Y. Jackson Paintings 1902‒1953”, Art Gallery of Toronto; travelling to National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Winnipeg Art Gallery, October 1953‒14 April 1954, no. 212, as painted 1927/29, collection The Women’s Art Conservation Association of Sarnia. Barbeau collection identified on erratum slip
“Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Musée du Québec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 69
“Annual Group of Seven Dinner, featuring works of art by Alexander Young Jackson,” The York Club, Toronto, 17 February 1999
Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
Marius Barbeau, “Totem Poles of the Gitskan, Upper Skeena River, British Columbia”, Ottawa, 1929, pages 45‒55, 222‒225, plate VII, figures 1, 2, 5, 6, plate VIII figures 1 and 2 (same in facsimile edition Ottawa, 1973)
George F. MacDonald, “The Totem Poles and Monuments of Gitwangak Village”, Ottawa, 1984, pages 46‒52, 112‒115 and 119‒123
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 69, pages 5, 65, reproduced page 10 Charles C. Hill, “Backgrounds in Canadian Art: The 1927 Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern,” in Emily Carr: “New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon”, Ottawa/Vancouver, 2006, pages 92‒121
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, page 201, reproduced page 121
David Silcox, “The Group of Seven & Tom Thomson”, Toronto, 2003, page 349, reproduced page 370
Charles C. Hill, ‘A.Y. Jackson, Totems, Kitwanga’, in “The Collection of Mitzi & Mel Dobrin”, Alan Klinkhoff Gallery, Toronto, 2019, pages 119‒122
During the 1920s Marius Barbeau, ethnologist at the National Museum in Ottawa played a catalytic role in the validation and popularization of the early arts of French Canada and of the Indigenous cultures of British Columbia, heritages he perceived to be menaced by political and economic changes and cultural indifference. To promote a greater awareness of these oral and visual traditions, he encouraged artists, such as A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Edwin Holgate, to interpret these cultures and their environments in contemporary works of art.

In 1925 Barbeau invited Jackson and Lismer to join him on the Île d’Orléans and Lower Saint Lawrence. The result was an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto in May 1926, titled “Art in French Canada”, that coincided with the exhibition of the Group of Seven. Both Jackson and Lismer showed Quebec landscapes resultant from the summer’s venture.

The following year Barbeau invited Jackson and Holgate to visit the Skeena River in British Columbia. Barbeau had catalogued the heraldic poles and monumental sculptures on the Skeena River in 1924 and took a great interest in the poles and carvings in the Gitxsan village of Kitwanga or Gitwangak. In 1926 Indian Affairs, Canadian Parks and the National Museum, in association with the Canadian National Railways, restored a number of the poles in the village, moving them from the riverbank to align the village street. The intent was to encourage tourism as Gitwangak was on the CNR line to the coast and accorded with Barbeau’s desire to promote greater awareness of traditional cultures.

Jackson and Holgate worked on the Skeena River from mid‒August to mid‒October 1926, painting the Gitxsan villages and surrounding landscape and drawing portraits. After Holgate had left, Jackson spent a week in Gitwangak, where he drew a number of the poles and painted a few oil sketches of which Marius Barbeau acquired at least two, including this superb study. Here the foreground is defined by the lower figures of two poles, with houses, both older with smoke holes and another with glazed windows, behind. The tops of two additional poles rise above the rooftops.

In 1929 Barbeau identified the foreground pole as ‘Man‒in‒the‒ Copper‒Shield’ (Barbeau 1929, VII, 2; MacDonald, no.3) belonging to Ha’ku, John Fowler. A Hanging‒frog is seen above a large human face representing Kwaw‒amawn (Kwohamon) of the house of Ha’ku. At the right Jackson painted the lower two figures of a pole called ‘Super‒frog’ or ‘Man‒Cut‒in‒Half’ (Barbeau 1929, VII‒1; MacDonald no. 4) with a hanging‒frog above Man‒cut‒in‒half. In the background are the crests of two poles belonging to Hlengwah, Jim Laganitz: ‘Raven‒sailing‒through‒the‒air’ (Barbeau 1929, VIII‒2; MacDonald 17) at the left and ‘Man‒crushing‒log’ at the right (Barbeau 1929 VII‒1; MacDonald 19). The two poles in the foreground had been painted by Emily Carr in 1912 in a watercolour in the Newcombe Collection, British Columbia Archives, Victoria (pdp 588).

Again, the result of this project was an exhibition that was held at the National Gallery of Canada in December 1927. The “Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art Native and Modern” introduced the work of Emily Carr to a new audience and also included the Skeena paintings and drawings by Edwin Holgate and A.Y. Jackson. Jackson exhibited three canvases depicting the Gitxsan villages of Gitsegyukla (Gitsegukla), Hazelton (Gitenmaax) and Kispayaks (Kispiox) and an unidentified “Group of Sketches of Indian Villages on the Skeena River” of which this sketch may or may not have been one.

This work is included in Naomi Jackson Groves’ inventory of works by A.Y. Jackson as NJG 653 recto. The panel has been split and the verso composition, “Port Essington” (NJG 653 verso), is currently unlocated. Marius Barbeau owned two Jackson sketches of Kitwanga. It is not certain whether it was this sketch or a sketch formerly in the Dobrin collection that was included in the 1953 A.Y. Jackson retrospective exhibition.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art at 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.

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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