Artwork by Robert Wakeham Pilot,  Meeting the Ferry at Quebec (circa 1924)

Robert Pilot
Meeting the Ferry at Quebec (circa 1924)

oil on canvas
signed lower right
18 x 24 ins ( 45.7 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $50,000.00$30,000.00 - $50,000.00

Price Realized $84,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Christie’s, auction, New York, 3 December 1982, lot 134
Private Collection
“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. 85
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015–25 September 2016
“Highlights from ‘Embracing Canada’,” Annual Loan Exhibition, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 22 October–5 November, 2016, no. 17
Christie's, auction, New York, 3 December 1982, lot 134, reproduced page 127
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 85, reproduced page 77
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, listed page 202, reproduced page 160
A.K. Prakash, “Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery”, Stuttgart, 2015, pages 621, 632
Similar to Maurice Cullen, Robert Pilot’s most renowned work focuses on the villages and towns of Quebec and eastern Canada. Recognized for his artistic abilities early on, the artist had already received training with art organizations throughout Montreal before enlisting and serving as a gunner in the First World War. Soon after his return, the painter was invited by A.Y. Jackson to include two of his works in the Group of Seven’s first exhibition in 1920. He was joined by fellow Montrealers Randolph S. Hewton and Albert Robinson. This promising start to the young artist’s career marked Pilot as a significant contributor to the new school of Canadian landscape painting. Following the exhibition, A.K. Prakash explains that Pilot declined “to formalize an association with these artists. Like Cullen, he differed philosophically from the group’s nationalistic approach to art. [Pilot] preferred to paint inhabited places rather than the untamed wilderness, so he differed philosophically from the group’s nationalist approach to art.”

Pilot’s poetic compositions share the same search for identity that motivated J.W. Morrice, Clarence Gagnon and Albert Robinson‒his Quebec predecessors and counterparts. Pilot preferred to paint the landscape of Quebec, which he often frequented, recording the local conditions of the time and of people co‒existing with nature. “He generally excluded the new world from his record – there is, for example, a noticeable absence of automobiles in his compositions,” notes Prakash. “Rather, his paintings convey a precise image of a world that was soon to disappear.” “Meeting the Ferry at Quebec” depicts a glimpse into a scene of another era. People and draft horses pulling sledges wait at the shoreline for a ferry to load and unload cargo, before crossing the St. Lawrence River from Lévis to Quebec City. The first railway connecting the north and south shores was completed in 1917 (known as the Quebec Bridge), and a roadway was added in 1927, finally allowing cars and trucks to cross the bridge. This painting was executed in circa 1924, when most goods and passengers were still required to cross the river by ferry or, during the height of winter, use an ice bridge. The loading of the ferry, especially using horses, is no longer a relevant activity, as two large bridges now connect both sides of the river.

The warmth and gentle brushstrokes of “Meeting the Ferry at Quebec” are synonymous with the celebrated painter’s ability to depict the Quebec landscape with great charm and artistry. The painting was completed shortly after the artist returned from an extended stay in France. Pilot studied at the Académie Julian in Paris from 1920 to 1922, and in 1922, he exhibited at the Paris Salon. His work took on Impressionist influences after he visited the artists’ colony at Concarneau. The pastel grey and pink sky and the ice floes in the blue river in “Meeting the Ferry at Quebec” recall the work of the European Impressionists; however, Pilot has applied these methods to a wintry subject that remains quintessentially Canadian.

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Robert Wakeham Pilot
(1898 - 1967) PRCA

Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Robert Pilot moved to Montreal in 1910 when his widowed mother married well-known Canadian artist Maurice Cullen. Pilot found he was attracted to the artistic life as he helped his stepfather with chores in the studio and began sketching. He studied figure drawing at the Royal Canadian Academy and learned landscape painting with Cullen. As a student at the Art Association of Montreal, he was recognized as a gifted pupil by instructor William Brymner, who offered instruction to the penniless young artist free of charge on the condition that he would pay the fees when he was able.

After serving overseas in WWI he returned to Montreal and was invited to participate in the first Group of Seven exhibition in 1920. For a time he concentrated on the etching medium, with the desire to develop his own style apart from that of his stepfather. He was given the opportunity to study in Paris with the help of a generous patron and travelled to Paris in 1920. There he studied at the Academie Julian and exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1922. On his return to Canada he was elected an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy. Exhibiting with the RCA gave him more visibility and some of his works were acquired by the National Gallery of Canada. After several successful exhibitions he travelled abroad painting in France, Spain, and North Africa. In addition to oil paintings and etchings he worked in pastel and completed several mural commissions in public buildings. More successful shows followed and he continued to paint, although he served his country once again in WW2. His Canadian impressionist painting style was shaped by his years in France, the influence of his stepfather, Maurice Cullen, and the work of J. W. Morrice, whom he greatly admired. He was elected president of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1952. Pilot died in 1967 and was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1969.