Artwork by Tom Thomson,  Ragged Oaks, 1916

Tom Thomson
Ragged Oaks, 1916

oil on panel
Estate stamp lower right; Estate stamp and inscribed “M. Thomson”, “134” and “23” on the reverse; inscribed with title, “Not for Sale” and “16” on a label on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $1,500,000.00$1,000,000.00 - $1,500,000.00

Price Realized $1,800,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Estate of the Artist
Elizabeth Thomson Harkness, Annan and Owen Sound
Margaret Thomson Tweedale, Toronto
Fraser Thomson, Seattle and Outremont, Quebec
Ina (Mrs. Fraser) Thomson, Seattle, by descent
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 1971
“An Exhibition of Paintings by the late Tom Thomson”, The Arts Club, Montreal, travelling to the Art Association of Montreal, 1 March‒12 April, 1919, no. 16
“The Art of Tom Thomson,” Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina; Winnipeg Art Gallery; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Confederation Art Gallery and Museum, Charlottetown, 30 October‒4 September, 1972, no. 101 “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. 56
“Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; travelling to National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands; McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 19 October 2011‒28 October 2012, no. 29
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Pop Up Museum”, Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum, 9 August 2017
“Collectors’ Treasures”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 19 October‒2 November 2019, no. 53
“Tom Thomson (Annual Loan Exhibition)”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 5‒19 November 2022, no. 19
Fraser Thomson, Letter to Blodwen Davies, 19 May, 1930, Blodwen Davies Collection, C-4579, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa (
Joan Murray, “The Art of Tom Thomson”, Toronto, 1971, reproduced page 85
Harold Town and David P. Silcox, “Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm,” Toronto, 1977, reproduced page 160; 2017 edition, reproduced page 154
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 56, reproduced page 58
Joan Murray, “Tom Thomson: Trees”, Toronto, 1999, pages 88-89, reproduced page 89
Ian C. Dejardin, “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, reproduced page 96
Ian Dejardin and Sarah Milroy, “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, reproduced page 96
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 136 Joan Murray, “Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné” (2016): https://www. inventory number 1916.86 (accessed on 22 January 2023)
“Tom Thomson (Annual Loan Exhibition)”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 2022, no. 19, reproduced page 22
In Tom Thomson’s exuberant “Ragged Oaks”, two oak tree trunks are depicted in a location of spectacular beauty. The leaves tumbled on the ground and the brilliant orange foliage and bush to one side balanced by bright leaves on the other reveal a scene of sparkling vitality, with all the liveliness Thomson wished to record and which appears in his best works. From the background tapestry of distant trees to the scattered logs of the foreground, the painting practically hums with energy but the energy is matched with harmony: lighter blues complement purples, oranges and yellows, creme complements crimson reds and mossy greens, greys balance the scene as though enclosing it in a field of force, black adds stability. Colour is used in such glowing profusion that the spot he chose bursts with life.

“Ragged Oaks” is a magical and vigorous quintessential Thomson in which balance is the key to beauty, from the oaks off-centre to the foliage and bush to the colours used throughout. When we look again at Thomson’s painting, we see that asymmetrical compositions appealed to him, the way a waterfall rushes at one side or another, or trees and machines and even clouds appear at one side or another, anything but use a division of parts which he must have found unnatural and perhaps boring.

The sketch is one of Thomson’s best forest studies of 1916, his golden year, from the trees he recorded in different configurations, such as that spring, when he painted the sketches for “The Jack Pine” and “The West Wind” to the differently‒shaped or aged pines (even dead ones) to birches and poplars, spruce and maple and tamarack, trees from a height or in twilight or in their gorgeous autumn colours, full of fire. Perhaps it was simply the delight he found in finding oak at all that made this scene so special to him and caused him to paint it so well. He would have seen oak as adding to his “collection” of tree studies. These are the only oak he had a chance to paint.

His youngest brother Fraser Thomson (1886‒1967), who owned this sketch, himself a painter, described it in 1930 to Blodwen Davies, Thomson’s first biographer as having: “A Cobalt blue sky with two ragged oak trees a little off centre with two patches of foliage in glowing color with foreground in green Brown purple manner with Blue + yellow a real painting”.

This “real painting” by Thomson dates from the year of 1916 as an inscription on the back records. “Not for sale”, a friend recorded doubtless because of its vivacious vitality. Thomson painted “Ragged Oaks” after he took a job as a fire ranger and reported to Achray, a park station at Grand Lake in Algonquin Park. That August he went on a long doubtless adventurous canoe trip with a friend. Perhaps after the trip finished and he left the Petawawa Gorges behind and was down “south” again, he strode into the forest and found oak growing. It is a tree more characteristic of the deciduous forest, typical of the forest to the south of the Park than the coniferous forest typical of the area to the north, as he knew.

The owners of this painting travelled to Seattle in 1971 and visited Fraser Thomson’s family to buy the sketch. They have treasured it from that time to today but its effervescent gaiety must have made the time they owned it seem short. It is one of the few paintings by Thomson that provide delight that are privately owned today.

We extend our thanks to Joan Murray, Canadian art historian, for contributing the preceding essay.

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Tom Thomson
(1877 - 1917)

Tom Thomson was born near Claremont, Ontario and grew up in Leith, near Owen Sound. After moving to Toronto, his early career was spent as a commercial artist at Grip Ltd., the commercial design firm where he first met MacDonald, Harris, Jackson, Lismer and others. By 1911, Thomson was making regular sketching trips to areas north of Toronto and, in 1912, he made the first of many trips to Algonquin Park.

As well as being an artist, Tom Thomson was an avid outdoorsman and Algonquin Park soon became his favourite place to paint. His enthusiasm for its quiet, untouched landscape with its changing moods and bright fall colours inspired other artists to explore the region. After 1914, Tom Thomson spent most of his time painting in Algonquin, except during the coldest winter months. It was during this period that he produced the bulk of his paintings of this rugged northern landscape. Thomson's brief, but prolific, career as an artist came to a premature end when he drowned in Canoe Lake in 1917, just three years before the Group of Seven held their first exhibition. His artistic achievement was to remain an inspirational force to other Group members.