Artwork by William Raphael,  Bonsecours Market, 1864

William Raphael
Bonsecours Market, 1864

graphite, ink and watercolour, heightened with white
graphite, ink and watercolour, heightened with white
signed and dated 1864 lower left
9.5 x 11.75 ins ( 24.1 x 29.8 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $3,000.00$2,000.00 - $3,000.00

Price Realized $33,600.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

The Artist
By descent to the granddaughter of the Artist
Private Collection
W.P. Wolfe, Montreal
Acquired by the present Private Collection, December 1998
‘The Fine Art Conversazione’, “Gazette” (Montreal) 13 February 1864
Napoléon Bourassa, ‘Causerie artistique’, “La Revue Canadienne II:3” (March 1865) page 171
Sharon Rose Goelman, “William Raphael, R.C.A. (1833-1914)” (M.A. thesis, Concordia University, 1978) pages 339-362
William Raphael was born in Nakel, Prussia in 1833, the son of Orthodox Jewish parents. He studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin and in 1857 emigrated to Montreal, where, like so many of his fellow artists, he began working for the noted photographer William Notman. A painter of portraits, still lifes, genre scenes and landscapes, William Raphael was a charter member of Montreal’s Society of Canadian Artists in 1868, a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1879 and a charter member of the Canadian Academy of Arts in 1880.

For many decades Raphael’s best known painting was his 1866 canvas “Behind Bonsecours Market”, purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1957 (acc. no. 6673), depicting a variety of figures on the quai between the market building and the apse of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours and the Saint Lawrence River. That painting expanded on a theme treated in a much more animated scene in this watercolour of 1864. In contrast to the summer calm of the riverside, he has here depicted the busy commerce of rue Saint-Paul in winter. The dome of Bonsecours market with its original chimneys and façade lined with temporary stalls, and the steeple of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours, before the reconstruction of the north façade, rise above this bustling street scene. Lower right a dark horse pulls a box sleigh or “berlot” carrying passengers waving brooms while a white horse pulls a “traîneau à batons”, or stick sled laden with pigs for market. Basket-laden women gesticulate at a farmer trying to right his fallen horse in the centre of the street while another sleigh approaches from behind. A pipe-smoking habitant, seated on the back of his horse-drawn sleigh and two Indigenous women wrapped in shawls lower left (presaging the painting “Two Indian Women” of 1873, sold at Cowley-Abbott, 1 December 2022, lot 134) provide a calm anchor to the chaotic scene. With almost topographical accuracy Raphael has delineated the architecture and awning and gas lamp lower left, animating it with a cast of characters on a cold winter day.

Raphael exhibited a painting titled “Bonsecours Market” in the second Loan Exhibition organized by the Art Association of Montreal in February 1864 and Napoléon Bourassa, whose lofty, Renaissance ideals for art disdained genre painting, described this work in his “Causerie artistique” in 1865,”We have our Raphael, who last year painted our Bonsecours Market with lots of sheep, calves, cows, pigs, broods, with a crowd of our Perette and our Garo, under the effect of the setting sun; but we have to admit with humility, that this Rsaphael is not the right one.” It is unlikely that this small watercolour was the work exhibited; however it is undoubtedly a study for that painting, or for a variant composition. While Raphael worked infrequently in watercolour, Sharon Goelman has identified about a dozen watercolours, some mere studies in sketchbooks. This is Raphael’s first treatment of a subject with which he is so closely associated.

Whether commissioned, or instigated by the artist’s own interest in this early watercolour, in 1880 Raphael painted an oil version from this study. It is faithful to the original in almost all details, yet to fill the potentially empty foreground he added two boys pulling a loaded sleigh lower right, a dog in the street in front of the seated habitant, and additional baskets around the central women.

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.