Artwork by Henry John Sandham,  Catching Waterlilies

Henry Sandham
Catching Waterlilies

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1889 lower right
24 x 34.5 ins ( 61 x 87.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$50,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $156,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Private Collection
“The Spectacle of Play”, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Summer 2014
“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. 10
Christine Boyanoski, ‘Figures in the Landscape en plein air’ in Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Landscapes: From Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, pages 61-62, reproduced pages 58-59

When he painted “Catching Waterlilies” in 1889, Canadian artist Henry Sandham had been living in Boston for eight years. Although he had been well established in Canada—as William Notman’s partner in the Montreal branch of his photography business; an illustrator for “Scribner’s Monthly Magazine” (”Century Magazine” from 1881) and others; and a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy (1880)—he wanted to devote himself to painting and spend less time on business. When an opportunity arose that would allow him to focus more on his art, Sandham moved his family to Boston in 1881, remaining there for twenty years. Sandham would continue his illustration work in order to generate income, but he quickly integrated himself into the Boston art scene where his portraits and genre scenes were “in demand.” He was a member of the Boston Art Club, and exhibited regularly in Boston, Montreal and elsewhere. A review of his exhibition of forty paintings and drawings at Hermann Wunderlich’s New York gallery in 1888 put him “in the foremost ranks of our painters, whether of landscape or the figure.”

“Catching Waterlilies” demonstrates Sandham’s skill at painting the figure and integrating it into the landscape. His work at Notman’s, creating large composite images by affixing photographic portraits onto a painted background, and his numerous illustrations of Canadian outdoor sporting activities like fishing and hunting, had given him plenty of experience. The subject of recreational boating was popular in the nineteenth century, particularly amongst Impressionist painters. It allowed them to explore two of their favourite themes: modern society, and the effects of light on water. In this sense, “Catching Waterlilies” can be considered an impressionist picture.

Here, a young woman and her more soberly attired chaperone have apparently hired a boatman to row them around the shallow margins of a lake, perhaps to collect the blooms of water lily plants. Nineteenth century social mores required that a young, unmarried woman of the middle and upper classes must be accompanied by a chaperone in public to protect her reputation. All attention is focused on the young woman in her voluminous pink dress, through the glances of her companions and the tilt of the bright red parasol. She is clearly separated from the male seated in the bow, and plucks a white lily, symbol of purity, from the water.

As for the landscape, Sandham had learned to paint as a young man in Montreal with some of the principal landscape painters of the day. The landscape of “Catching Waterlilies” was most likely based on sketches that Sandham made on his travels. While living in Boston, he painted and sketched up and down the New England Coast as the titles of exhibited works reveal. But he might also have referred to sketches made in Canada or Great Britain. The water lilies have been so closely observed and float so convincingly on the reflective surface of the water that the viewer is tempted to reach in to catch one for themselves.

We extend our thanks to Christine Boyanoski, independent art historian and curator of Canadian art, for her assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.
This painting set a new record for the artist at auction with “Catching Waterlilies” selling for $156,000 in the Live Auction of An Important Private Collection of Canadian Art on December 1st, 2022.

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Henry John Sandham
(1842 - 1910) OSA, RCA, SCA

Born in Montreal, Sandham began his career as a painter and illustrator while working as a photographic retoucher with noted composite photographer William Norman in his studio. Branching out into his own practice, Sandham won the silver medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878 for his composite photograph of the Montreal Snow Shoe Club (1877). He began working on assignment for “The Century Magazine” and “Scribner’s Monthly” magazine creating illustrations for the publications, including an illustration for George Grant’s “The Dominion of Canada” article for “Scribner’s Monthly” (1880). He was a founding member of the Society of Canadian Artists and in 1880 became a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy. Travelling to France, Boston, and England, spending significant time in Boston where he was the vice president of the Boston Arts Club, Sandham passed away in 1910 in London, UK.