Artwork by Franklin Carmichael,  Autumn Tangle

Franklin Carmichael
Autumn Tangle

oil on beaverboard
inscribed “No. 28” with the artist estate stamp on the reverse
9.75 x 12 ins ( 24.8 x 30.5 cms )

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

Price Realized $204,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Estate of the Artist
Galerie Dresdnere, Toronto
S.C. Trono, Toronto
Peter Bronfman, Montreal
Waddington Galleries, Montreal
Private Collection
“Frank Carmichael: Group of Seven”, Retrospective Exhibition, Galerie Dresdnere, Toronto, 14‒31 October 1964, no. 28
“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. 78
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 29 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Frank Carmichael: Group of Seven”, Retrospective Exhibition, Galerie Dresdnere, Toronto, 1964, no. 28, listed
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 78, reproduced page 72
Ian Thom, et. al, “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 111
In 1920, Franklin Carmichael became a founder of the Group of Seven landscape painting collective, a moment that marked his first significant recognition as a contributor to modern art in Canada. Beginning in 1912, he had participated in exhibitions of the Ontario Society of Artists (elected 1917), Canadian National Exhibition, and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. But, participation in the Group movement with just six other artists versus the huge group-artist society exhibitions, shone a spotlight on his practice that had not been possible before. Showing a total of forty-two works in the first three exhibitions of 1920, 1921 and 1922, visitors to the Art Gallery of Toronto could begin to experience the evolution of an artist. And it was in these early years of the Group’s formation that Carmichael’s artistic voice began to take shape as a masterful colourist and painter of light.

Carmichael had been consistently engaged in plein air sketching in oil since his return from study in Antwerp, Belgium in the fall of 1914. The previous summer on July 14, 1914, Carmichael scurried to Sheffield, England to spend his summer respite from study, residing with the Arthur Lismer family. He narrowly escaped being stuck in Belgium which Germany had begun to invade on July 24, 1914. Without means to remain in England, and no prospect of returning to Belgium to complete his studies at the Académie Royale des beaux art in Antwerp, Carmichael boarded the HMS Olympic to New York on September 23, amidst the reality of the First World War. On his arrival in Toronto in early October, without work, he promptly set up a lean camp with Tom Thomson in the Shack adjacent to the famous Studio Building. It was that winter that he began painting snow scenes, and gradually, he moved into exploring the other three seasons of the year.

By the time of the 1920 exhibition, Carmichael had resolved that the fall season offered immense painterly possibilities, notably the glorious pageantry of fall colour offered by the changing colours of the deciduous trees‒red, yellows and oranges‒set against the evergreens. He would explore the beauty of fall change for the rest of his landscape painting career. In “Autumn Tangle”, Carmichael concentrates on these effects in one of his shallowest compositions from this period of his work, similar to his renown easel painting, “Silvery Tangle”, 1921 (Art Gallery of Ontario) and to the sketch “Autumn Foliage against Grey Rock” (National Gallery of Canada). While his use of colour is stunning, and dominates the overall impression, the bald rock face in the foreground occupies nearly half of the composition. It was a strategic decision that set the middle ground colours into sharp relief. In the far distance, only a tiny portion of the composition is dedicated to a distant hazy sky. However, it is not truly a hazy day for the lighting in the foreground bears witness to a blast of sunlight from behind the artist to illuminate his subject, resulting in the striking palette of reds, yellows, and oranges.

This warm and joyful sketch is unsigned but bears the estate stamp, proof positive of its larger quality provenance. As well, in the twenties, Carmichael often worked on an incorporated product called Beaverboard, made of compressed fibreboard building materials, a practice consistent with this sketch too. As well, it was included in the Carmichael’s first solo exhibition with a gallerist, Toronto’s Simon Dresdnere; the painting was number 28 in that exhibition, a detail confirmed on the verso of the panel. The Dresdnere exhibition has remained one of the few commercial solo shows in the whole of Carmichael’s posthumous exhibition legacy. Wisely, Dresdnere saw the need for the exhibition to also be a retrospective, drawing on works beginning in the 1920s and continuing to the 1940s. In this context, “Autumn Tangle” offered gallery visitors an introduction to the artist’s early work of the 1920s.

We extend our thanks to Catharine Mastin, PhD, art historian, curator and Adjunct Member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies in Art History at York University for contributing the preceding essay. Mastin also curated the exhibition “Franklin Carmichael: Portrait of a Spiritualist”, an exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa which toured Canada between 1999 and 2001.

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Franklin Carmichael
(1890 - 1945) Group of Seven, OSA, RCA, CSPWC

Born in Orillia, Ontario, he worked for his father who was a carriage maker and received a good part of his early training in design from him. He took painting lessons from Canon Greene (believed to be one of the parsons on which Stephen Leacock based the character of Dean Drone in “Sunshine Sketches”). In 1901 he met Willian J. Wood another Canadian artist who like himself was aspiring to become a full time painter. Carmichael gave continued encouragement to Wood throughout his life.

In 1911 Carmichael arrived in Toronto and attended the Ontario College of Art where he studied under William Cruikshank and G.A. Reid, also at the Toronto Central Technical School under Gustav Hahn. He began an apprenticeship at the Grip Engraving firm in 1911 where he met Thomson, Lismer, McDonald, Varley and others with whom he sketched on week ends and holidays. A.Y. Jackson in his autobiography described Carmichael in these words, “Frank Carmichael was the youngest member of the original Group, a lyrical painter of great ability and a fine craftsman. He was never free to devote all his time to painting...” It was in 1913 however, that Carmichael had saved enough money to study in l'Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp, Belgium, under Isidor Apsomer and G. Van Du Leben. On his return to Toronto in the winter of 1914-15 he shared accommodation in the Studio Building with Tom Thomson until he married and established a home.

In the following years he worked for Rous and Mann and Sampson-Matthews. As art director for one of these firms he had as an assistant, A.J. Casson from 1919 to 1926. He was a successful industrial designer with a speciality in kitchen utensils and has been credited with introducing the oval dish pan for a steelwares firm. In his paintings he chose Northern Ontario landscapes, and villages of trim box like homes. In 1925 Carmichael helped form the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour with A.J. Casson and F.H. Brigden, a society which kept alive interest and development in this medium.

Paul Duval in his book “Group of Seven Drawings” noted Carmichael was better known for his graphic art and wood engravings, particularly in book illustration. He designed and illustrated Grace Campbell “The Higher Hill” all published by Collins of Canada. Most of his painting before 1925 was done in oils, but after that date he turned to watercolours, block prints, and engravings.

He won a silver medal in 1926 at the Sesquicentennial Exposition. In 1932 A.H. Robson wrote, “...His principal reputation to-day rests upon his water-colour paintings in which the medium he has attained an enviable reputation of organization, beauty of design, and the charm of subtle and refined colour.” This was written in the year that Carmichael left the commercial art field for a teaching post at the Ontario College of Art where he remained head of the Graphic and Commercial Art Department until his death.

Keenly interested in music he played the bassoon, cello and flute, and took part in the University Orchestra presentations and other group performances. In 1936 he exhibited in the Group of Seven retrospective show in Toronto. A memorial exhibition of his paintings, and woodcuts was held at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1947. Another exhibition of his work at the Mount Slavein School, Orillia, in 1960. He is represented in the collections of The Art Gallery of Ontario, Hart House, University of Toronto; Vancouver Art Gallery; St. Hilda's College Toronto; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery of Canada by a dozen or more paintings; National Gallery of South Africa, and in many private collections.

He was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1917) (Pres. 1938); Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (1925 Founding Member); Canadian Group of Painters (1933 Founding Member); Royal Canadian Academy (ARCA 1935 RCA 1938); Arts and Letters Club, Toronto.

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