Artwork by George Agnew Reid,  Family Prayer

George Reid
Family Prayer

oil on canvas board
signed and dated 1892 lower left
10 x 13 ins ( 25.4 x 33 cms )

Auction Estimate: $15,000.00$10,000.00 - $15,000.00

Price Realized $24,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Maynard’s, auction, Vancouver, 12 May 1983, lot 302 as “Family in Prayer”
Private Collection
“Paintings by Mr. and Mrs. G.A. Reid”, Messrs Oliver, Coate & Co, Toronto, 10–14 December 1892, no. 24
“Sympathetic Realism: George A. Reid and the Academic Tradition”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Thunder Bay National Exhibition Centre; Kitchener‒Waterloo Art Gallery; Burlington Cultural Centre; Rodman Hall Arts Centre, St. Catharines, 22 August 1986‒17 May 1987, no. 41
“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. 35
“Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art”, Varley Art Gallery, Markham, 13 April‒23 June 2019
Muriel Miller‒Miner, “G.A. Reid Canadian Artist”, Toronto, 1946, listed page 210 (misdated as 1890)
Maynard's, auction, Vancouver, 12 May 1983, lot 302, reproduced on the cover
Christine Boyanoski, “Sympathetic Realism: George A. Reid and the Academic Tradition”, Toronto, 1986, no. 41, page 76, reproduced page 77
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 35, page 12, reproduced page 44
This could easily be mistaken as a final, small-scale oil sketch for Reid’s much larger (101.5 cms x 127.0 cms), highly finished but compositionally almost identical 1890 painting of the same name (Victoria University, University of Toronto). However, it is dated 1892, whereas the bigger painting was begun in 1890 and was completed in early 1891, in time to be included in the Royal Canadian Academy’s annual exhibition in March that year. Similarly, Reid’s large canvas “Logging” (National Gallery of Canada) is dated 1888, while a small study of the head of one of the seven loggers (NGC) is from 1889. Perhaps he painted the 1892 “Family Prayer” as a visual reminder for himself (no other oil sketch for the painting is currently known), or as an enticement for potential purchasers.

The shared theme of the two oils was in keeping with other scenes of humble Canadian life painted by Reid in the early 1890s at his studio in Toronto’s Yonge Street Arcade, for each of which he constructed a set—in this case, a family parlour— to pose his models. Other canvases in the series include “The Story” (1890, Winnipeg Art Gallery), “Mortgaging the Homestead” (1890, National Gallery of Canada), and “The Foreclosure of the Mortgage” (1893; destroyed in 1919 and replaced by a 1934 replica now in the Government of Ontario Art Collection, Toronto). Together, these established Reid’s reputation as a painter of genre pictures full of human interest and convincingly expressed emotion. Here the sincerity of a family’s religious devotion is masterfully conveyed by the seven figures arranged in an animated but stable composition, united by an appropriately sombre colour scheme of browns and reds and illuminated by the spiritually symbolic light that falls directly on the father, whose position at the centre of the picture bridges the two groups of three figures on either side of him. Whereas this panel was rarely exhibited, the larger canvas received rapturous reviews, especially for its emotional impact: a strength it shared with the smaller oil. “The picture is faultless and as a domestic idyl it will appeal to every reverent and human heart,” wrote the Toronto “Daily Mail” in 1891 (9 March), while the Globe praised its “delicate and ceaseless expression of refined truth” (14 March).

We extend our thanks to Brian Foss, Carleton University Professor of Art & Architectural History, and co‒curator of “1920s Modernism in Montreal: The Beaver Hall Group” for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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George Agnew Reid
(1860 - 1947) OCA, PRCA