Artwork by Alfred Joseph Casson,  The Camel’s Hump, Lake of Bays

A.J. Casson
The Camel’s Hump, Lake of Bays

oil on canvas
signed lower right; titled and inscribed “circa 1983” on a label on the stretcher
20 x 24 ins ( 50.8 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $80,000.00$60,000.00 - $80,000.00

Price Realized $72,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Private Collection, Toronto
Margaret Gray, Margaret Rand and Lois Steen, “A.J. Casson”, Agincourt, Ontario, 1976, page 43
Hubert De Santana, ‘A Painter’s Life: A.J. Casson looks back on 60 years at the easel’, “Canadian Art”, Spring 1985, pages 64-69
A.J. Casson has a played a prominent role in the development of Canadian art, quietly having built his reputation as a master painter without sacrificing the principles of his personal approach to painting. Although a professed lover of travel, Casson never went far afield. Ontario is Casson’s place. He knows and loves the varying landscape of the province. From the pastoral rolling countryside, where a few houses and stores cluster at a crossroad, to the craggy heights of the lonely landscape where only the wind through the trees breaks the silence.

Adjacent to Algonquin Park, Lake of Bays is an idyllic oasis in the northeastern part of Muskoka. A small township with over a hundred lakes, the area is a popular destination for cottagers escaping the city. Casson frequented the area on his sketching trips, revelling in the expanse of forests, rocks, lakes and wetlands to paint.

Casson has captured the heavy atmosphere of an early autumnal day in the Lake of Bays in this oil. The camel hump shaped hills of the background are shrouded in cloud from the moody grey skies. Mist rises from the lake, signalling the cool dawn of fall. The ruddy red and soft yellow leaves of the foliage in the foreground stand in stark contrast to the overall subdued palette, providing a rich warmth in the play of light and shadow.

The artist has “worked up” this canvas, inspired by a sketch executed in 1981. The moody skies remain, but it is interesting to note the shift in colour palette and season. The vantage point of the canvas, viewing the camel hump shaped hills head on from across the lake is striking, placing the viewer actively in the thick of the landscape as opposed to passively on the shoreline. Casson shows his appreciation for the beauty and simplicity of the landscape in this composition, harnessing a boyhood passion for exploring the countryside.

Characteristic of the artist’s later works, there is a softness to both the colour palette and the handling of brushwork emphasizing a more reserved depiction of the Canadian landscape. The work showcases Casson’s dedication to the Ontario landscape in this subtle rendering of the popular region. Common to Casson’s work throughout his career is a limited colour palette. In a 1985 interview, the artist recalls this strategy as being present since his early days with the Group of Seven, when “exhibitions were flaming with colour.” He elaborated by stating: “Well, I’ve always thought that if you want to stand out, don’t follow the herd. I was inclined to go into subtle greys, to get away from the gaudy. I painted a few gaudy ones, but they never appealed to me.” “The Camel’s Hump, Lake of Bays” is a prime example of a subtly dramatic landscape of this period in Casson’s oeuvre.

Speaking to the artist’s legacy, Margaret Gray, Margaret Rand and Lois Steen share that, “[Casson’s] hundreds of drawings, sketches and paintings, which have recorded the beauty and the character of his land, are a great legacy indeed. But perhaps from a historical point of view A.J. Casson’s greatest contribution lies in the present-day link which he provided with that vital period when Canadian art took on its own identity. The Group of Seven laid down the foundations upon which modern art in this country has built, and Casson, although never avant-garde, has made his own unique contribution to the structure. He paints his own vision, unaffected by the tyranny of the new.”

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Alfred Joseph Casson
(1898 - 1992) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters, PRCA, OSA, CSPWC

Born in Toronto, Ontario, he started art studies at Ryerson School and later under John S. Gordon at the Hamilton Technical School when his family moved to Hamilton. His family moved back to Toronto in 1916 and he worked free lance and studied evenings at the Ontario College of Art, the Toronto Central Technical School under Alfred Howell, and classes under Harry Britton who first taught him watercolour techniques and introduced him to oil painting.

When the young A.J. Casson first took a position as design assistant to Franklin Carmichael at the firm of Rous and Mann, he could not have known the remarkable direction his career would take. The demanding but affable Carmichael became a friend, mentor and sketching companion. In fact, it was Carmichael who introduced Alfred Casson to members of the Group of Seven at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club. The dedicated artist began to exhibit with the Group and became a natural successor to Frank Johnston when he left to pursue other interests.

He exhibited for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1921, and in 1923 his canvas “Clearing” was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada. Casson , Carmichael and F. H. Brigden formed the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour in 1925 “to encourage and foster the art of watercolour in Canada.” F. B. Housser wrote in the Year Book of Arts in Canada “Carmichael and Casson are painting in watercolours … giving to Canadian landscape a statement in watercolour as bold and untraditional as that which some of their associates have given it in oils.”

Most of Casson’s large canvases were done between 1926 and 1930 when he found his subject matter in the Haliburton Region and Lake Superior areas. It was about 1924 that Casson became interested in the Ontario village. He made many pencilled sketches of structural details which became a valuable reference for his larger studies in oils like “Anglican Church at Magnetawan” completed in 1933 and purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1936. In his depiction of the more settled areas of southern Ontario, A.J. Casson was deliberately seeking out subject matter that set his work apart from the preferred material of other Group of Seven members. Alfred Casson’s strong design background shaped a unique painting style, characterized by graceful lines and carefully considered compositions. With the passing of time his style underwent a subtle change in which pattern became an essential element in his work.

In addition to his dedication to excellence in his own work, A.J. Casson was instrumental in the formation of important Canadian art organizations such as the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Canadian Group of Painters and the WWII War Artists Program. Vice President and Art Director for Sampson-Matthews Ltd. for almost 20 years, he was responsible for the technical development of programs in connection with reproduction of artists’ works carried out by the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Pulp and Paper Association and Sampson-Matthews Limited. He did heraldic work which was reproduced by Sampson-Matthews Ltd. including armorial bearings of Canada and a series of landscapes.

There can be no doubt that over a long career, which spanned much of the twentieth century, Alfred Joseph Casson left an indelible mark on the Canadian art landscape.

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

  • 1898   Alfred Joseph Casson born in Toronto
  • 1912   Studies at Hamilton Technical School under John S. Gordon
  • 1913   Apprenticeship at the Laidlaw Lithography Company in Hamilton, Ont.
  • 1914   Apprenticeship at Commercial Engravers Company
  • 1915   Freelance designer
  • 1915-1917   Studies at Toronto Central Technical College under Alfred Howell
  • 1918-1921   Studies at the Ontario College of Art under J.W. Beatty
  • 1919-1926   Assistant Designer to Franklin Carmichael at the design firm of Rous and Mann Ltd. 
  • 1920   Carmichael introduces Casson to Group of Seven members at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club
  • 1921   Exhibits for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists;  accompanies Carmichael on an extended painting trip to Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka district
  • 1922   Exhibits for the first time with the Group of Seven
  • 1923   “Clearing”, is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada; becomes a member of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1925   Founding member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour together with Franklin Carmichael and F.H. Brigden
  • 1926   Becomes a member of the Group of Seven upon the departure of Frank Johnston;  accompanies Franklin Carmichael to the design firm of Sampson-Matthews;  becomes an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  buys a car and begins to explore the small villages and hamlets of Southern Ontario
  • 1926-1930   Sketches in the regions of Haliburton and Lake Superior
  • 1928   Sketching trip to Lake Superior with A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris and Franklin Carmichael
  • 1933   Co-founds the Canadian Group of Painters after the dissolution of the Group of Seven, following the death of J.E.H. MacDonald
  • 1936   Anglican Church at Magnetawan is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada
  • 1939   Becomes a full member of the RCA
  • 1939-1945  Appointed as a member of Canada’s War Records Committee;  helps to establish the WWII War Artists Program
  • 1940   Elected President of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1942   Appointed Art Director of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1946   Appointed Vice-President of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1949   Publishes “The Possibilities of Silk Screen Reproduction” in Canadian Art magazine
  • 1948   Elected President of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  receives the Province of Ontario Award
  • 1954   Awarded the Gold Medal for Excellence in Canadian Advertising
  • 1955-1959   Appointed Vice-President of the Art Gallery of Ontario
  • 1957   Retires from Sampson-Matthews in order to pursue painting on a full-time basis;  awarded Gold Medal from the University of Alberta
  • 1967   Awarded Canada’s Silver Centennial Medal
  • 1970   Awarded the Royal Canadian Academy Medal; conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Western Ontario
  • 1971   Conferred with an Honourary Degree from the University of Saskatchewan
  • 1973   Becomes a Fellow of the Ontario College of Art; awarded the City of Toronto Award of Merit for distinguished public service
  • 1975   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Toronto
  • 1977   Awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1979   Awarded the Order of Canada
  • 1980   Conferred with an D.F.A. from Mount Allison University
  • 1982   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from McMaster University
  • 1991   Awarded the Order of Ontario
  • 1992   Dies in Toronto at the age of 93