Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Oak and Birch

A.Y. Jackson
Oak and Birch

oil on panel
signed lower right; signed, titled, dated 1920, inscribed “Oak and Birch 3/Georgian Bay” and NJG Inventory No. 1353 on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $50,000.00$30,000.00 - $50,000.00

Price Realized $102,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

The Artist
Geneva Jackson, Kitchener, ON
The Artist?
Marion MacCallum, Montreal
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 1981
“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. 66
“Annual Group of Seven Dinner Featuring Works of Art by Alexander Young Jackson”, The York Club, Toronto, 17 February 1999
“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
A.Y. Jackson, Penetang to Florence Clement, Kitchener, postmarked 7 (?) February 1920, and 26 March 1920, in Naomi Jackson Groves fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa (MG30 D351, box 95-9)
A.Y. Jackson, “A Painter’s Country”, Toronto, 1958, pages 49-51
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada Selections from a Toronto Private Collection,” Toronto, 1988, no. 66, reproduced page 63
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 117, caption page 201
Douglas Hunter, “Jackson’s Wars: A.Y. Jackson, the Birth of the Group of Seven and the Great War”, Montreal/Kingston, 2022, pages 320-322, 332-333
After almost four years with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in England and France, A.Y. Jackson returned to Canada waiting to be sent to Siberia with the Canadian troops. For this he purchased a stock of white paint before he was finally discharged in Canada on 16 April 1919. In September he made his first visit to Georgian Bay since 1913, returning the following February, snowshoeing in from Penetanguishene to Franceville. Caught in a storm en route, he wrote to his cousin Florence Clement, “... getting in to Franceville is not easy. ... when I did get started after lunch it had got dull and cloudy, and by the time I got past the light house it started to snow ... and I decided I didn’t want a memorial exhibition until I had a few more extreme canvases, blue, green violet and yellow snow, as it is of course, but not yet realized by the general public. I waited an hour for it to clear and it only came down thicker, and as there was no road to follow, I finally ‘bout turned. It cleared up just as I got back and is trying to look pleased with itself at present. Tomorrow morning if it’s decent I’ll try again.” Weather and ice conditions were a constant preoccupation, and on 26 March he again wrote to Florence Clement. “Well I got here after writing you from Penetang ... and settled down for the winter. And it has been real Canuck stuff. My colors friz, followed by me, but now it is soft and mushy and there is only snow in the woods. ... It’s a wonderful sketching ground in winter. On sunny days it makes little difference in which direction one goes. I made a lot of sketches round Muskosh, a few on Bone Island, Burnt Island, and Portage Id., round Loon Basin.... First I snow shoed sketching, then I skated, now I walk, and soon will go in a boat. Just now you don’t know how to go. The Freddy [Channel] is open water, likewise Shadow River and Pike Channel and Bone Point. ... I’ll show you the prevailing colors up here when I return about Apl 20th if possible. You never know just what the ice will do. Most of my Siberian white has been spread on and a lot of blue.”

From the simplest of motifs, young leafless oaks and a birch on the edge of the icy expanse, Jackson created a decorative arrangement recalling his pre-war Algonquin canvases and Tom Thomson’s West Wind, though in a less dramatic vein. Painted in his desired palette of “blue, green violet and yellow”, a mossy rock breaks through the snow lower left and blue shadows dance across the yellow snow. Russet and green trees on the far shore, edged in lighter blue, crown the sinuous foreground arrangement. With a surprising lightness of touch, Jackson has given us a glimpse of the beauties and joys of late winter.

Jackson had a long and affectionate friendship with his aunt Geneva Jackson of Kitchener. It was she who first acquired this sketch and possibly, Jackson received it back from her estate in the early 1950s. Jackson’s popularity with his public from the 1940s resulted in numerous commissions for specific subjects, including canvases painted from earlier sketches. At an unknown date, this sketch was worked up in a canvas that Jackson identified as “From sketch made 1920”.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven‒Art for a Nation”, for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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Alexander Young Jackson
(1882 - 1974) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters, OSA, RCA

Born in Montreal, Alexander Young Jackson left school at the age of twelve and began work at a Montreal printing firm. In 1906, he undertook art studies at the Art Institute in Chicago. The following year he enrolled at the Académie Julian where he studied under Jean Paul Laurens for six months, then he travelled to Italy with others where they visited galleries in Rome, Florence and Venice. They returned to France and Jackson went to the village of Episy with a fellow student named Porter with whom he had lived in Paris. Jackson found much to paint at Episy: old farms, rolling country, the canal where barges were towed by mules, and for the first time (in France) he lived with people close to the land.

He left France when his funds were low and returned to Canada in 1910 where the “clear crisp air and sharp shadows” of Sweetsburg, Quebec, became the subject of his canvas “Edge of the Maple Wood”. During this period his painting was strongly influenced by the Impressionists. Then the work of Canadian artists Cullen and Morrice led him further in the discoveries of snow and other elements of Canadian subject matter which were to become an integral part of his work throughout his life. After his return to Canada, Jackson took up residence in Montreal and made many sketching trips to the surrounding countryside. While at Emileville he received a letter from a J.E.H. MacDonald of Toronto who wanted to purchase his “Edge of the Maple Wood” on behalf of a third party, Lawren Harris. Jackson sold the picture and later met MacDonald in Toronto. In Toronto he also met, through MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley and other members of the Arts and Letters Club who were employed by the Grip Engraving Company as commercial artists. Jackson later went to Georgian Bay to sketch and was visited there by Dr. James MacCallum, a friend of Lawren Harris. MacCallum, who had a summer home at the Bay, offered Jackson a place to work in the ‘Studio Building’ which MacCallum and Lawren Harris were having built for Canadian artists in Toronto. In the meantime Jackson was invited to stay at MacCallum’s summer home. Jackson’s production was good; he did many sketches and a number of canvases, one being the “Maple in the Pine Woods” which was later to bring a storm of criticism at a Group of Seven exhibition.

On his return to Toronto, Jackson stayed at Lawren Harris’ studio in Toronto until the Studio Building was completed. There one day he was introduced to Tom Thomson who had accompanied Dr. MacCallum on a visit. Thomson was also an employee of the Grip Engraving Company. The two moved into the Studio Building in January 1914 and shared a studio. Thomson had soon inspired Jackson to visit Algonquin Park in February and March of 1914. Jackson also sketched that year with J.E.H. MacDonald and J.W. Beatty. In 1915, Jackson enlisted as a private in the 60th Battalion and after being wounded, returned later to the front as Lieutenant with Canadian War Records. As a war artist he created one of the finest collections of war paintings our nation possesses.

In 1919 he went to Algoma with J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris and Franz Johnston, making use of a railway box car as a studio which Harris had arranged. During that year, Jackson became a full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. On May 7th, 1920, the first exhibition of the Group of Seven opened at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The Group continued to exhibit until 1931. Each exhibition of the Group was met with great protest. In July of 1927 Jackson and Dr. Frederick Banting went north on the steamer ‘Beothic’ which had been chartered by the government to deliver supplies to the RCMP posts and to carry relief constables to the posts. They sketched at Pond Inlet, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island and other arctic locations. Jackson’s arctic sketches were exhibited at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Jackson's great sense of adventure carried him from the east coast across Canada to the Rocky Mountains of the west. He made regular sketching trips to Quebec every spring and travelled to the far regions of Canada during the summer, including the Canadian Arctic. In the fall he would return to the Studio Building in Toronto (where he lived until 1955), spending the winters painting canvases. He continued this active lifestyle until he was in his eighties.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979