Artwork by William Brymner,  The Carpenter’s Shop

William Brymner
The Carpenter’s Shop

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1891 lower right
14 x 20 ins ( 35.6 x 50.8 cms )

Auction Estimate: $10,000.00$8,000.00 - $10,000.00

Price Realized $19,200.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Mabel C. Evans, 1979
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal
Private Collection
“Royal Canadian Academy of Arts”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 30 March 1892, no. 65 as “Carpenter’s Shop” ($75)
“Annual Spring Exhibition, Art Association of Montreal”, 18 April‒4 May 1892, no. 18 as “The Carpenter’s Shop” ($75)
“William Brymner 1855‒1925 A Retrospective”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston; travelling to National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée du Québec, 13 May‒11 November 1979, no. 20 as “The Carpenter’s Shop”
‘Art Notes’, “The Week”, IX:19 (8 April 1892) page 298
William Brymner, ‘Village Life in Three Countries’, “The University Magazine” (Montreal) XI (April 1912), pages 309‒326
Janet Braide, “William Brymner 1855‒1925: A Retrospective, Kingston”, 1979, page 82
A.K. Prakash, ‘William Brymner (1855‒1925) Libérateur’, “MagazinArt”, 16:1 (Fall 2003), reproduced page 11
The Scottish-born William Brymner spent his youth in Melbourne in the Eastern Townships, and in Montreal, until 1872 when his family moved to Ottawa as his father, Douglas Brymner, had been appointed Canada’s first Dominion Archivist. William began working as a draughtsman for the Chief Architect in the federal Department of Public Works but soon abandoned architecture for painting, and in 1878 began studies at the Académie Julian in Paris.

Like so many foreign students apprenticing in France, winters were spent in Paris working in the academies or studios of prominent artists, and summers travelling and painting in small French villages or artists’ colonies. In 1883, Brymner and fellow art student Fred Brown painted in the village of Pontaubert. “On wet days … I liked the sabot-makers’ shops the best: they were so clean with all their chips and shavings,” he later wrote. The resultant canvas, “With Dolly at the Sabot Maker’s”, was purchased for the National Gallery of Canada (acc. no. 35) the following year.

Brymner frequently depicted men and women at work as exemplified by his paintings of a cobbler and blacksmith, a spinner, quilt maker, seamstress and weaver, as well as the sabot maker. He later wrote fondly of the skills of Michel Marquis at whose home he lodged when painting at Sainte-Famille on the Île d’Orléans. “In winter he converts the kitchen into a workshop where he makes furniture, principally chests of drawers. They are generally made of yellow butternut, enriched with black walnut ornaments; and although the drawers do not always run true, and are, in trying to shut them, a frequent cause of profanity, a set of them has come to be a necessary part of every properly equipped Ste. Famille bride’s outfit.”

Janet Braide has suggested that Brymner might have started this canvas while travelling in Ireland and the Low Countries in the summer of 1891 and has observed that the composition is reminiscent of “With Dolly at the Sabot Maker’s”, similarly remarked upon by the writer in “The Week” in 1892. Yet by eliminating the narrative element of the child and “Dolly,” he creates a more naturalistic treatment of the subject. As in a number of Brymner’s canvases, the man works by the light from the window, a necessity in a pre-electrical age. He concentrates intently on his work, shavings litter the floor and the tools are accurately observed and inventoried. An overall brown tonality unites the composition but is highlighted by the blue of the man’s trousers and the brick wall glimpsed through the window.

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William Brymner
(1855 - 1925) OSA, RCA

Born in Greenock, Scotland, he arrived in Canada with his parents in 1857. A Canadian painter who initially worked as an architect for the Canadian government, William Brymner took up painting full-time in 1876 and studied at the Academie Julien in Paris under the instruction of W.A. Bougereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. On his return from Paris he became head of the Art Association of Montreal in 1886, a post that he retained for 35 years. The same year he became a full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. In 1899 he painted a canvas entitled “Early Morning in September” a pastoral scene which Dr. Hubbard in his book “The Development of Canadian Art” noted for its “curiously soft and gliding tones”.

Brymner shared his love of landscape with two other fellow Canadian artists, James Wilson Morrice and Maurice Cullen and they took sketching trips to Ste. Anne de Beaupré and to the Ile d’Orleans. Professor Ella Agnes Whitemore writing on Brymner noted “He almost worshipped the art of Constable on which his own was based.” In 1892, Brymner went to Western Canada to do a number of large pictures of Rocky Mountain scenery which were commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway. He also had an interest in historical subjects and was one of the artists who aspired to decorate the House of Parliament in Ottawa. His part was to depict the arrival of Cartier on the rounded wall above the doorway of the rotunda but the plan was held in abeyance awaiting government appropriation.

Brymner did considerable painting of figures and interiors of very realistic presentation and the National Gallery of Canada has two fine examples of such nudes in interior settings and another nude executed in a classical vein. Paul Duval noted his work in watercolours and reproduced his “Two Girls Reading” for his book on this medium. Many of Brymer’s watercolours were done on silk and linen and as noted by Paul Duval his silk ones were done “in a fairly large scale”. Brymner is perhaps remembered more today for his teaching activities having had many students pass through his hands who achieved prominence including Wilfred Molson Barnes, Clarence A. Gagnon, Prudence Heward, Randolph S. Hewton, Edwin Holgate, Lilias Torrence Newton, Hal Ross Perrigard, Robert Pilot, Sarah Robertson and Anne Savage. A. Y. Jackson received occasional advice from him but did not study directly under him. William travelled extensively between and throughout Canada and Europe during the course of his career producing a wide variety of sketches, drawings, and paintings.

Perhaps his best known painting is "A Wreath of Flowers" completed in 1884. Another work, "With Dolly at the Sabot-Makers" (1883), has the distinction of being the first painting bought (in 1884, for $90.00) by the then newly established National Gallery of Canada. William married Mary Caroline Massey the daughter of Richard Massey and Caroline Gooch of Chester, Cheshire. Brymner suffered a stroke in 1917 and had to abandon teaching for a time. He left office of President of the Royal Canadian Academy and in 1921 also retired from teaching. He took a trip to Europe with his wife and spent two years at Capri.

William was described in the "Canadian Who Was Who" of 1938 (Trans Canada Press, 1930) as having "a strong personality, tall, slender, typically Scotch in appearance and in religious faith adhering to the Church of Scotland. Brymner was universally beloved by students not only for his craftsmanship, but also for his kindly disposition". It was after a trip to Europe in 1925 that William died at his wife's family home in Cheshire in 1925. He's buried there in the Wallasey cemetery. He is represented in the Quebec Provincial Museum, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The Art Gallery of Ontario, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Hamilton as well as the National Gallery of Canada. A showing of 89 of his pictures took place at the Art Association of Montreal in the fall of 1926.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977