Artwork by John Arthur Fraser,  Study for “A Seaside Idyll”

John Fraser
Study for “A Seaside Idyll”

oil on canvas
signed with monogram and dated 1877 lower left; inscribed “Study for A Seaside Idyll” on the stretcher; titled on a label from previous framing affixed to the reverse
7.25 x 12.25 ins ( 18.4 x 31.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $7,000.00$5,000.00 - $7,000.00

Price Realized $7,800.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Sotheby’s, Important Canadian Art, Toronto, 10 November 1987, lot 224 “A Seaside Idyll” (d. 1877) sold with “Daybreak at Low Tide, Restigouche” (d. 1880)
Kaspar Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection
“Ontario Society of Artists, Paintings & Drawings: Sixth Annual Exhibition”, Society’s Gallery, Toronto, 20 May 1878, no. 56 as “Study for Sea‒side Idyl” at $40
“Canadian Academy of Arts, First Annual Exhibition”, Clarendon Hotel, Ottawa, 8‒19 March 1880, no. 62 as “Study for a large picture” (in possession of Lady Howland)
“Special Exhibition of the Works of Canadian Artists Including Diploma Pictures, &c., from the Recent Exhibition of the Canadian Academy of Arts”, Ottawa, Art Association of Montreal, from 14 April 1880, no. 44, “Study for Sea‒side Idyl”
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; and Art Gallery of Hamilton, 29 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Highlights from ‘Embracing Canada’: Annual Loan Exhibition”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 22 October‒5 November 2016, no. 6

‘Ontario Society of Artists’, “The Daily Globe”, Toronto, 22 May 1878
‘Ontario Society of Artists’, “The Mail”, Toronto, 22 May 1878
‘Canadian Art’, “The Daily Free Press”, Ottawa, 8 March 1880
‘Academy of Arts’, “The Globe”, Toronto, 9 March 1880, page 3
Dennis Reid, “‘Our Own Country Canada’, Being an Account of the National Aspirations of the Principal Landscape Artists in Montreal and Toronto 1860‒1890”, Ottawa, 1979, pages 253, 258, 336‒337, 341
Kathryn L. Kollar, “John Arthur Fraser (1838‒1898)’ (M.A. thesis, Concordia University, Montreal, 1981), pages vi, xii, 30‒38, 111, 153, 197, 238
Kathryn L. Kollar, “John Arthur Fraser (1838‒1898): Watercolours Aquarelles”, Montreal, 1984, page 7
Dennis Reid, “Lucius R. O’Brien; Visions of Victorian Canada,” Toronto, 1990, pages 35‒37
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, page 200, reproduced page 48
Born in London of Scottish parents in 1838, John Fraser came to Canada in 1858, first settling in Stanstead, Quebec. By 1860 he was listed as an artist in the Montreal street directory and was soon working for the renowned photographer William Notman. Like so many of his fellow Montreal artists he was engaged to tint photographs or paint portraits from photographs. In 1868 he partnered with Notman to form Notman and Fraser Photographers in Toronto.

While the demands of running a photography studio took up much of his time, Fraser did find time to paint and exhibited both oil paintings and watercolours. He was a charter member of Montreal’s Society of Canadian Artists in 1868 and a key player in the establishment of Toronto’s Ontario Society of Artists in 1872. He was the society’s first vice-president, the presidency being an honorary position held by W. H. Howland, son of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. The first exhibition of the Ontario Society was held at Notman and Fraser’s gallery in April 1873.

The mid-nineteenth century nationalist landscape movement, so well described by Dennis Reid in “Our Own Country Canada”, saw artists exploring the various regions of the country, from the Eastern Townships, to the Atlantic Provinces and finally to the Rocky Mountains. The movement was intimately linked to the development of the railways. In 1876 the Intercolonial Railway opened the final portion of its new line between Rivière-du-Loup and Halifax, enabling tourists and artists to travel by rail from Montreal to the mouth of the Restigouche River in New Brunswick. The more easily accessible territory attracted photographers and artists and in the fall of 1877 John Fraser and Lucius O’Brien painted on the Baie des Chaleurs. Given the similar subjects they exhibited in the Ontario Society of Artists exhibition in May 1878, they probably worked together and painted in the region in October 1877. Fraser exhibited a watercolour titled “Early Morning, October, Dalhousie, N.B.” with the American Water Color Society in New York in February 1878.

Fraser exhibited a canvas titled “A Sea-side Idyl” (City of Toronto Art Collection, A75-67) and “Study for Sea-side Idyl” in the 1878 Ontario Society of Artists exhibition The larger painting had been sold before the exhibition’s opening as Fraser had held a private showing of the canvas in the rooms of Notman and Fraser. The invitation (Ontario Society of Artists Papers, F1140-1) included a quote from Henry Wentworth Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline”.

“Then followed that beautiful Season called by the Pious Acadian Peasants The Summer of All Saints.
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light, and the landscape lay as new created in all the freshness of childhood.
Peace seemed to reign upon Earth and the restless heart of the Ocean was for a moment consoled.”

This use of a literary text to accompany an exhibited painting became a short-lived fashion in Toronto following the arrival in 1876 of Charlotte Schreiber, who regularly showed paintings with poetic texts. However, Fraser’s use of Longfellow’s poem has nothing to do with the expulsion of the Acadians but with the serenity of the idealized land from which they were evicted.

The paintings were well reviewed by the Toronto press. The writer in the Globe (22 May 1878) noted the connection between the opening of the Intercolonial Railroad and the exhibited paintings. “Prominent among the spots delineated on canvas is one on the New Brunswick shore of the Bay of Chaleur, giving a view of the Tracadiegash Mountain on the opposite shore. This is the subject of Mr. Fraser’s picture, “A Sea-side Idyll,” and also of a very good painting by Mr. O’Brien entitled “The Mountain in Shadow.” Accompanying Mr. Fraser’s is a small study of the same subject in oil, while Mr. O’Brien has one in water-colour. Without giving any ground for the charge of making invidious comparisons, the “Sea-side Idyll” may safely be pronounced the gem of the Exhibition, if not the finest landscape… ever painted in Canada.”

Today one might consider the “Study” the finer of the two paintings. In the sketch, the shore lower right attracts the eye to the sun bathed Tracadiegish Mountain (now Mont Saint-Joseph) in Gaspé, across the bay. The figures grouped around the boat unload the day’s catch while another boat arrives. In the larger canvas, Fraser enlarged the group of women at the left, filled the foreground boat with a dog and various items, added sails to the two masts, a rock below the barrel lower right and a basket and fish by the barrel at the left. The addition of so much extraneous detail moves the focus to the foreground rather than on the expansive landscape seen in the beautiful study.

“Study for ‘A Sea-side Idyll”’ was next exhibited in the first exhibition of the newly established Canadian Academy of Arts in Ottawa in March 1880 as “Study for a large picture (in possession of Lady Howland).” The larger canvas had been sold to the wife of the lieutenant-governor and mother of the president of the Ontario Society of Artists. The study was again admired in the pages of “The Globe” (9 March 1880) as “a little gem of sea and coast.”

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John Arthur Fraser
(1838 - 1898)