Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Montreal River, Algoma, 1919

A.Y. Jackson
Montreal River, Algoma, 1919

oil on wood
signed lower left; signed, titled, dated 1919 and inscribed “35.00” on the reverse; inscribed “To Jane Stewart Fifteen Years Since Oct. 25. 1924”; inscribed “Told us this was the exact spot from when J. E. MacDonald painted ‘The Solemn Land’”; NJG Inventory No. 2405 on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$30,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $72,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

The Artist
Jane Stewart, Toronto, 25 October 1939
McCready Gallery, Toronto
S.C. Torno, Toronto, by 1969
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 23 October 1971
“Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven”, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; travelling to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 19 June‒31 October 1970, no. 95
“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. 65
“Annual Group of Seven Dinner featuring works by Alexander Young Jackson”, 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, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016 as “Montreal, Algoma River”
Dennis Reid, “Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven”, Ottawa, 1970, reproduced page 138
Dennis Reid, “Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 65, reproduced page 63
Charles Hill, ‘No Timid Play of Subtleties, but Bold and Massive Design’, in Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver /London, 2015, page 87 (with incorrect comparative reproduction), reproduced page 114, caption page 201 as “Montreal, Algoma River”
Mid‒September 1919 A.Y. Jackson joined Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston on a trip to Algoma on the Algoma Central Railway. Harris and MacCallum had first visited this region in the spring of 1918 and had been joined by MacDonald and Johnston that fall. This was Jackson’s first trip to Algoma. The artists first painted at the Canyon at mile 113 from Sault Ste. Marie, then at Hubert (at mile 96), from where they could travel to the falls of the Montreal River (at mile 92) by handcar, and then at Batchewana at mile 80. The autumn colour had been glorious when they first arrived, but plagued by constant rain, the reds soon turned to orange and yellow and the hills to purplish grey.

The artists worked closely together and in early October Jackson and MacDonald painted on a hill above the Montreal River, under varying weather conditions. In Jackson’s sketch the autumn colour is a complex arrangement of oranges, reds, browns and greens with purplish grey cliffs under an overcast sky. The striking graphic design of the body of water and surrounding land echo the curves of the hills and clouds. The paint is applied assertively in almost sculptural, patterned forms.

MacDonald, not atypically, painted three oil sketches from a height near Jackson, possibly on the same day. In the oil sketch in the collection of the Art Gallery of Algoma, dramatic storm clouds roll across the sky, casting dark shadows over the water and hills. Yellow, brown foliage in the lower right curves down to the water and spit of land then rises above the foreground rocks to the looming, grey cliffs. The surrounding hills encircle the still water.

In MacDonald’s study in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, painted from a nearby viewpoint, the green and brown leafed trees cascade across the dense foreground rising to the brown‒ crested, purple cliff. The foreground plays a more dominant role in the composition. Paint is applied more fluidly and the blues of the water blend into the sky overhead.

Under a somewhat clearer sky MacDonald painted the third oil sketch in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Oranges accent the foreground and shadows and sunlight fall across the cliff and distant hill. Clouds, no longer dark, roll across the sky above the blue waters.

The patterns of light and shadow and cloud forms seen in this last sketch would be further developed in the resultant canvas, “Solemn Land”, completed one and a half years after painting on the Montreal River. The canvas was worked up from the three sketches, yet it shares the subdued tonality of the Jackson sketch and similarly enhances the graphic design of the water and surrounding cliffs. The paintings of the Group of Seven grew out of, not only a shared vision, but also constant dialogue and mutual perceptions.

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