Artwork by William Raphael,  Rafting on the Ottawa River

William Raphael
Rafting on the Ottawa River

oil on canvas
signed lower left
12 x 17 ins ( 30.5 x 43.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $8,000.00$6,000.00 - $8,000.00

Price Realized $6,600.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Private Collection, Montreal
Kaspar Gallery, Toronto, c. 2000
Private collection, Calgary
The Collectors’ Gallery of Art, Calgary
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 2019
John W. Hughson and Courtney C. J. Bond, “Hurling Down the Pine”, Gatineau, 1964, pages 63, 110-111
Sharon Rose Goelman, “William Raphael, R.C.A. (1833-1914)” (M.A. thesis, Concordia University, 1978) page 346, no. 109 as “Logging Scene with Paddle Steamer”
John Wadland, ‘Places’, in Charles C. Hill & Dennis Reid, “Tom Thomson”, Toronto/Ottawa/Vancouver, 2002, pages 101-102, 261, 282, 321 note 50

William Raphael painted landscapes as early as 1870 when he exhibited, at the Society of Canadian Artists’ second exhibition, a currently unlocated painting titled “Falls of Le Trou”, a site popular with the summer residents of Murray Bay. In most instances he included figures to animate the landscape and, with a few exceptions, the paintings are of relatively modest dimensions. In spite of Sharon Goelman’s ground-breaking thesis on Raphael, there is much that is unknown about the artist’s artistic development and production. He was an infrequent exhibitor in Canadian art exhibitions, often showing the same paintings at low prices. The dimensions and prices may have been determined by his ability or inability to sell.

This painting was sold to the current owners by The Collectors’ Gallery in Calgary as “Rafting on the Ottawa River”. The source of this title is not certain though there are traces of an old label on the lower stretcher bar, which may or may not have provided the original title; however, Raphael exhibited no painting by this title during his lifetime. The subject, however, is not rafting for pleasure but logging, on what is probably the Ottawa or an adjacent river. Logging remained an important factor in the economies of the Ottawa Valley until around 1900. A diminutive tugboat pulls two small log rafts towards the dock at the left. The central character is the young man holding the rope joining the two rafts while a steamboat approaches in the distance. The sawn lumber piled on the dock is being loaded on, or unloaded from, a “blue barge” capable of passing through the canals on the Ottawa River. The bow of a ‘pointer’, a shallow, oared boat manufactured in Ottawa and Pembroke, used in lumbering to direct logs, can be seen lower left. Tom Thomson painted similar pointers in “Algonquin Park” in 1916 (Art Gallery of Ontario and Hart House, University of Toronto).

However the labours of the workers and the smoke from the wood furnaces of the boats are not the subjects of this painting, but the river landscape painted in soft, atmospheric colours. The mauve water and blue sky are masterfully painted and the human activity animates the wide expanse of the river.

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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William Raphael
(1833 - 1914)

Born in Nakel, Prussia and educated at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin, Willam Raphael brought with him a Germanic tradition of figure painting when he arrived in Montreal in 1857. In the 1860s he painted portraits, still lifes and city views that combine topography and genre, most notably in his famous painting of 1866 depicting people grouped behind Bonsecours Market (National Gallery of Canada, acc. no. 6673). He was undoubtedly attracted to the costumes and characteristics unique to Quebec, be it the garb of a habitant in a rustic interior (a theme he treated in several paintings) or women bringing their wares to market.