Artwork by Paul Peel,  The Young Gleaner

Paul Peel
The Young Gleaner

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1888 lower left
33 x 23.25 ins ( 83.8 x 59.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $200,000.00$150,000.00 - $200,000.00

Price Realized $408,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Verdier Family, Copenhagen
By descent to the Abell Family, Copenhagen
Oliver, Coate & Co., auction, Toronto, 15 October 1890, lot 9 as “Sweet Flowers”
R. Fraser (?), 1890
Jenkins Art Gallery, Toronto, 1923
McBrien Estate, Toronto
Waddington’s, auction, Toronto, 23 June 1982, lot 298 as “Blossoms and Butterflies”
McCready Gallery, Toronto
Sotheby’s, auction, Toronto, 31 May 1990, lot 113
Private Collection
“Royal Canadian Academy of Arts”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, from 13 March 1889, no. 48
“Annual Spring Exhibition”, Art Association of Montreal, April 1889, no. 50
“Fine Arts Department,” Toronto Industrial Exhibition, September 1896, no. 67 as Sweet Flowers
“Paul Peel: A Retrospective 1860-1892”, London Regional Art Gallery; travelling to Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; Concordia Art Gallery, Montreal; The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Vancouver Art Gallery, 6 September 1986‒30 August 1987, no. 42
“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. 31
“Home Truths”, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; travelling
to Mississauga Living Arts Centre; Rodman Hall, St. Catharines, 4 September 1997‒22 February 1998
“Art canadien: L’enfant et son univers|Canadian Art: A Child’s World”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 28 October‒11 November 2017,
no. 17
“Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art”, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, 13 April‒23 June 2019 as “The Young Gleaner (Blossoms and Butterflies)”
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 29 October 2015‒5 September 2016
‘The Royal Academy’, “Ottawa Evening Journal”, 14 March 1889 The Canadian Magazine 57, May 1921, reproduced on cover as “Wild Flowers”
‘Canada’s Foremost Artist Got $2,000 for Pictures Now Worth $750,000’, “Toronto Evening Telegram”, 7 March 1923, reproduced
“The Canadian Magazine 61”, September 1923, reproduced on cover
Newton MacTavish, “The Fine Arts in Canada”, Toronto, 1925, reproduced opposite page 25 as “Butterflies”
E.K. Grayson, “Picture Appreciation for the school”, Grades VII to X, Toronto, 1932, page 135, reproduced page 134 as “Butterflies”
W. Stewart Wallace, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Toronto, 1935, vol. 1, reproduced as “Butterflies”
William Colgate, “Canadian Art its origin & development”, Toronto, 1943, page 29
Victoria Baker, “Paul Peel: A Retrospective 1860-1892”, London Regional Art Gallery, 1986, no. 42, reproduced page 133
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 31, reproduced page 41
Joan Murray, “Home Truths: A Celebration of Family Life by Canada’s Best-Loved Painters”, Toronto, 1997, plate 58, reproduced page 83
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, page 202, reproduced page 75

Paul Peel spent much of the summer of 1887 in the French fishing port of Étaples-sur-mer, Pas-de-Calais, site of a colony of international artists. It was in Étaples that he found local girl, Marie, who became a favoured model for a series of figure paintings completed in 1888.

In this canvas, originally titled “The Young Gleaner”, the young girl is depicted outdoors under brilliant sunlight descending an Étaples sand dune, armed with freshly gleaned flowers and captured at the fleeting moment she spies two butterflies. This painting is a slightly larger replica of the canvas (Art Gallery of Ontario) shipped from Paul Peel’s Paris studio to Canada for exhibition: first at the 19th Annual Royal Canadian Academy of Art Exhibition in Ottawa in March 1889 and in April at the Art Association of Montreal Spring Salon. As was a common 19th century practice, Peel frequently replicated his paintings, sometimes in differing scales, for various reasons: additional sales; the artist’s own study/demonstration purposes; or as gifts to family or friends. This version of “The Young Gleaner” was retained by the artist’s Copenhangen-based Danish in-laws, the Verdiers, from whence it descended through the family until its sale in Canada. A third version of the subject is thought to be in private hands.

A primary painterly interest in “The Young Gleaner” is an optically realistic rendering of bright sunlight, an interest shared by most contemporary artists of the day. Peel’s preoccupation with sunlight is underscored by a companion piece, “The Young Botanist”, which depicts little Marie seated examining flowers on the same sand dune under a similarly bleaching sunlight (at least two versions of this composition are known, one in Museum London). A life-sized pastel drawing of “The Young Botanist” was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1888, under the title “Au soleil” (Frank Gray, of Toronto, would purchase both the pastel (Sunshine) and oil from the artist at Oliver, Coate & Co, Paul Peel Sale in 1890).

Like fellow graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts and students of Thomas Eakins (Peel graduated in 1880), Paul subscribed to a tonal method of rendering natural light outdoors. This alternative aesthetic of light to French impressionism, practised by most North American artists‒recently coined the Glare aesthetic (William Gerdts, American Impressionism, 1980)‒depends on tonal, rather than colour, contrasts. Here the effort to render bright natural light conditions leads to a bleached palette and flattened forms with reinforced formal outlines (vs impressionist dissolution of form). This method owes a debt to Edouard Manet (whose 1884 Paris retrospective exhibition Peel must have seen).

Peel launched his professional career in France with such studio productions as “The Spinner” (1882, Museé des beaux-art de Montreal), and continued throughout his short career to seek his official credentials by means of idealized domestic genre paintings after the prevailing academic manner. It was at the recommendation of his first French teacher, Jean-Paul Gerome, that the fledging artist began sketching outdoors, first in Pont-Aven, Brittany, where he joined an established seasonal colony of largely American artists. Direct painting outdoors resulted in a number of high-keyed paintings capturing the bright, glaring properties of sunlight on local forms, exemplified by a series of Pont-Aven village views and the small figure study “Bubble Boy” (1884, Art Gallery of Ontario). In 1883, during a visit to his hometown of London, Ontario, Peel applied his new methodology to depict Covent Garden Market (Museum London), under a blazing sun using large, bright planes next to small areas of deep darks to solidify architectural forms.

Like his American friends, Peel’s concern with optical realism (photographs served as memory aids) was tempered by an ongoing academic concern for formal integrity and for appealing pictorial narratives. The bright illumination of little Marie equally evokes a happy mood and carefreeness of a fleeting moment of childhood, one echoing the artist’s personal life in 1887 as a new husband and father of a one-year old son (born the previous October in Étaples). The charm of children would remain a primary selling point of the artist’s production.

We extend our thanks to Victoria Baker, Canadian art historian and author of “Paul Peel: A Retrospective, 1860-1892” for contributing the preceding essay.

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Paul Peel
(1860 - 1892) RCA,OSA

Paul Peel was born in London, Ontario in 1860. His early art training was provided in London by his father, John Robert Peel, and William Lees Judson, then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia under Thomas Eakins. He later moved to Paris where he received art instruction at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Paul Gerome and at the Acadmie Julien under Benjamin Constant, Henri Doucet, and Jules Lefebvre. He then traveled widely in Canada and Europe exhibiting as a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy. He also exhibited at international shows like the Paris Salon.

Peel's work was very popular in both his lifetime and today. It is executed mainly in oil and employs genre, landscape, marine and portrait subjects. His conservative style reflected the official one then taught in the French government academies but, at the time of his death, Peel appeared to be changing his style toward impressionism. He died in Paris in 1892.