Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Morning, Agawa River, 1919

A.Y. Jackson
Morning, Agawa River, 1919

oil on wood
signed lower right: signed, titled and dated “September ‘19 and 1920” on the reverse; inscribed “Algoma” on the reverse; NJG Inventory No. 2404
8.25 x 10 ins ( 21 x 25.4 cms )

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

Price Realized $48,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

The Artist
S. Walter Stewart, Toronto
Jane Stewart, Toronto
McCready Gallery, Toronto
S.C. Torno, Toronto, by 1969
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 23 October 1971
“Small Paintings and Sculptures by Members of the Ontario Society of Artists”, Art Gallery of Toronto, 8 October 1921, no. 59
“Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 19 June‒31 October 1970, no. 122 as “Morning, Agawa River”, 1920
“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. 67
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
Dennis Reid, “Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven”, Ottawa, 1970, reproduced page 160 as 1920
Dennis Reid, “Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 67, reproduced page 64 as 1920
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 116, caption page 201 as 1920
In October 1918 A.Y. Jackson returned from England, where he had served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force since 1915, but was only discharged from the army in April 1919. After a brief visit with friends in Georgian Bay, in September, he joined Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston on the Algoma Central Railway. Harris and MacCallum had first visited Algoma 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 on the Agawa River at Mile 113 from Sault Ste. Marie, the site of so many major canvases painted by the future Group of Seven artists. Jackson dated this sketch both September ’19 and 1920 yet the artists painted near Mongoose and Wart lakes in the fall of 1920, not on the Agawa River.

This very decorative oil sketch superbly evokes the rich autumn foliage that rises from the calm waters of the river. Arranged in successive, vertical ranges, the river’s reflections, accented with horizontal strokes of blue‒green, set the stage for the conical cedars that create a gentle rhythm across the composition. Behind the rolling red and orange bushes meet a flow of oranges and greens that recall the central bouquet in J.E.H. MacDonald’s famous painting “The Tangled Garden”. The green foliage at the top of the composition, touched with blue, echoes the foreground waters. The clarity of colour, dense composition and sinuous line create a paean of praise for the artist’s discovery of the glories of Algoma.

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