Artwork by William Brymner,  Wharf at Ste. Famille, Île d’Orléans

William Brymner
Wharf at Ste. Famille, Île d’Orléans

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1890 lower right
16.25 x 25 ins ( 41.3 x 63.5 cms )

Auction Estimate: $8,000.00$6,000.00 - $8,000.00

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

Private Collection, Quebec
Sotheby’s, auction, Toronto, 17 May 1989, lot 10 as “The Wharf of Ste. Famille, Île d’Orléans”
Galerie Dominion, Montreal (inventory number G8438) as “Wharf”
Private Collection, British Columbia
Private Collection
Possibly “Royal Canadian Academy of Arts”, Toronto Art Gallery, 6 March 1891, no. 82 as “Schooner at Low Tide”
“Forging the Path: The Forerunners (1870‒1920)”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, 2 October 2010‒30 January 2011, as “Wharf at Sainte Famille, Île d’Orléans” (circa 1890)
Janet Braide, ‘Les murales de Brymner à l'Île d'Orléans’, “Vie des Arts”, 24:7 (Winter 1979-80), pages 62-65, 93-94
William Brymner, ‘Village Life in Three Countries’, “The University Magazine” (Montreal) XI (April 1912), page 309
Katerina Atanassova, “Forging the Path: The Forerunners (1870‒1920)”, Kleinburg, 2010, reproduced page 6
Madeleine Landry, “Beaupré 1896‒1904: Lieu d’inspiration d’une peinture identitaire”, Québec, 2014
William Brymner frequently worked on the Lower Saint Lawrence, especially around Baie-Saint-Paul at the mouth of the Gouffre River. In 1885, newly returned from studies abroad, he painted a group of children in a field near Baie-Saint-Paul, a canvas reminiscent of his famous “A Wreath of Flowers” (National Gallery of Canada, XXX and 19), painted at Runswick, Yorkshire, the previous summer. He returned to Baie-Saint-Paul frequently over the years exhibiting canvases and watercolours of the region. In March 1891 he submitted “Low Tide, Baie St. Paul” and “Schooner at Low Tide” to the Royal Canadian Academy exhibition in Toronto and in April, the same two works were shown in the Spring Exhibition of the Art Association of Montreal, together with a work titled “At the Mouth of the Gouffre”. All the titles resulted from Brymner painting during the previous summer on the waterfront rather than in the surrounding valley. Without trains or adequate roads, the river was the principal north shore highway from Quebec City to Tadoussac and schooners were a major means of transport. Wharfs were constructed to accommodate larger steamboats at high tide.

A schooner with sails all raised - possibly to dry them - is the principle subject of this superb painting. The boat sits on shore, its bow tied to the wharf, and at the right one glimpses the river and the houses and hills on the far shore. This painting was sold at auction in 1989 as “The Wharf of Ste. Famille, Île d’Orléans” with the title being inscribed on the verso, an inscription no longer on the painting. There is no record of Brymner painting on the Île d’Orléans before 1898, though it was of easy access from Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré on the north shore. Across from Baie-Saint-Paul is the low rise of Île-aux-Coudres. Madeleine Landry’s insightful book on Beaupré offers a number of possible options for the identification of this site and she quotes Brymner’s 1912 article: “As I used to see it in the evening, from Ste. Anne de Beaupré, or Chateau Richer, Ste. Famille had for years fascinated me. Long after the shadow of the Laurentians falls over the north shore of the St. Lawrence, that part of the Island of Orleans occupied by Ste. Famille is still in brilliant sunlight, and the procession of little farmhouses and barns, running along the cliffs from either end of the parish, glows like something moulten.”

Brymner painted several watercolours and oils of boats at low tide along this part of the Saint Lawrence. In 1899 he was commissioned to paint mural decorations for the dining room in the country residence of his friend, the businessman and amateur artist Charles Porteous near Saint-Pétronille at the south-west tip of Île d’Orléans. The decorations in the house, Les Groisardières, depict rural life on the island through the four seasons. The “summer” wall includes a fish weir and sailing boats by a wharf, similar to “Moored Boats”.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, for contributing the preceding essay.

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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