Artwork by Maurice Galbraith Cullen,  Shipyard at Lévis, 1897

Maurice Cullen
Shipyard at Lévis, 1897

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1897 lower right; titled on multiple gallery labels on the reverse; Cullen Inventory No. 1130
16.25 x 18.25 ins ( 41.3 x 46.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$40,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $45,600.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Haynes Art Gallery, Toronto
Watson Art Galleries, Montreal, 1956
Paul Duval, Toronto, 1956
M. F. Feheley, Toronto, 1956
The Park Gallery, Toronto
Dr. Lancelot Barnes, Toronto
Framing Gallery, Toronto
Acquired by the present present Private Collection, circa 1970
Possibly, “Oil paintings by Mr. Maurice Cullen of Paris, France”, Fraser Institute Hall, Montreal, 17 December 1897, no. 11 as “Lévis Docks from the Hill”
“Maurice Cullen 1866‒1934”, Art Gallery of Hamilton; travelling to Art Gallery of Toronto; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 5 October 1956‒ July 1957, no. 13
“Impressionism in Canada: 1895‒1935”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to Edmonton Art Gallery; Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory; Confederation Art Gallery and Museum, Charlottetown; Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Toronto Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 16 January 1974‒5 January 1975, no. 6
“1855/Maurice Cullen/1934”, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston; travelling to Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Art Gallery of Hamilton; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Edmonton Art Gallery; Musée des beaux‒arts de Montréal, 26 September 1982‒22 January 1984, no. 12
“Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Musée du Quebec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 43
“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
Edmond Dyonnet, “Mémoires d'un artiste canadien”, Ottawa, 1968, page 67
Joan Murray, “Impressionism in Canada 1895‒1935”, Toronto, 1973, no. 6, reproduced page 22
Hugues de Jouvancourt, “Maurice Cullen”, Montreal, 1978, reproduced opposite page 10
“Artswest”, 8:6 (June 1983), reproduced page 16
“Canadian Collector”, July 1983, reproduced page 33
Sylvia Antoniou, “1866/Maurice Cullen/1934”, Kingston, 1982, no. 12, pages 12, 62, reproduced page 27
Dennis Reid, “Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 43, reproduced page 49
Dennis Reid, ‘Impressionism in Canada’ in Norman Broude, editor, “World Impressionism: The International Movement, 1860‒1920,” New York, 1990, reproduced page 98
A.K. Prakash, “Impressionism in Canada: A Journey to Rediscovery”, Stuttgart, 2015, page 304
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 153, caption page 200

Born in Saint John’s, Newfoundland in 1866, Maurice Cullen came to Montreal as a youth. There he studied with the sculptor Louis‒ Philippe Hébert and with a small inheritance, he travelled to Paris in 1888 to study at the Académie Colarossi and École des Beaux‒arts. Having been elected an Associate member of the Société nationale des beaux‒arts in 1895, the French state purchased his painting “Été” from the Société’s annual salon (now at the Musée de Pithiviers).

The following year Cullen returned to Canada and painted at Beaupré on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence and around Quebec City, working with James Wilson Morrice in mid‒winter 1897. He exhibited four winter canvases at the 1897 Spring Exhibition at the Art Association of Montreal “Quebec from Lévis”, “In Winter Quarters”, “On the Wharf, Lévis” and “The Ship’s Dock”, subjects painted at Lévis, across the Saint Lawrence from Quebec City or on the Saint Charles River. Additional titles included in the auction of ninety‒two paintings Cullen organized in Montreal in December 1897, intended to finance his return to France, included, “In the Dockyard (Lévis)”, “Lévis Docks from the Hill” (possibly this painting), “Lévis, At Point Lévis” (2 canvases), “Early Morning, Lévis” and “At the Wharves, Lévis.” According to the memoirs of his friend Edmond Dyonnet, Cullen realized only $800 for the lot.

Cullen’s painting of 1897, “Shipyard at Lévis,” depicts a National Historic Site, the yards of Davie Shipbuilding, a company founded in 1825 and still in business. Here the dockyard is viewed from the terrace above while other canvases of 1897 depict Lévis viewed from the docks or Quebec City seen from Lévis. From left to right the artist included a large ship at dock, three ships supported by logs along the quai, the winch house, boiler room and forge and the railway tracks used for loading and unloading the ships. The eye is directed from the shadow lower left, along the shore road to the houses on the cliff upper right. Red, pale oranges and mauves accent the snowy landscape from which emerge dark green firs along the cliff’s edge. Blue water emerges from the river’s ice and Beauport and the Laurentian hills can be seen on the horizon upper right below the moving clouds.

Maurice Cullen’s and James Wilson Morrice’s landscapes of 1897 mark a turning point in the history of Canadian art, bringing a new light and colour to depictions of the winter landscape. These are not sites for recreation and sport as seen in the paintings of an earlier generation, but places of labour and daily life, inhabited by the artists’ contemporaries.

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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Maurice Galbraith Cullen
(1866 - 1934) RCA

Maurice Cullen was born in St. John's Newfoundland, 1866. His family moved to Montreal in 1870. He studied sculpture at Monument National under Philippe Hebert. He assisted Hébert in the making of the Apostle figures for the facade of St. James Cathedral. The legacy left to him after the death of his mother in 1887 enabled him to travel to Paris and study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was tremendously impressed by the work of Claude Monet and other Impressionists which swayed him to become a painter. He studied painting under Eli Delauney in 1889 at the Beaux-Arts and in 1892 left the school to paint landscapes at Moret, Every, and Le Pouldu. In 1894 five of his paintings were shown at the Salon. On a trip to Brittany he met the Norwegian painter Fritz Thaulow, they had much in common. Thaulow may have influenced him in choosing winter landscapes.

In 1895 he was elected Associate of the Societe nationale des Beaux-Arts, France. That same year he returned to Montreal where he opened a studio, making sketching trips along the St. Lawrence near Quebec City and Beaupre. By 1897 he was exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy and participated in Spring Exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal. At the time there was very little interest in Canadian snow scenes. In 1900 Cullen held an exhibition of his French and Canadian paintings at the Fraser Institute but sold none of these works. They offered little competition for the Dutch 19th Century paintings which were then in vogue. His lack of success left him undeterred however, and he continued sketching in Montreal and Levis. His night scenes of shops with their glowing windows reflecting light in the snowy streets, were breaking new ground by their “ordinary everyday subjects” as was noted by Dr. Hubbard in his book.

In 1907 Cullen was elected full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. He was a fine craftsman and was very careful with the media he used. He worked with thick surfaces throughout, or totally thin surfaces, and presently his canvases pose few problems for restorers. He seldom used more than eight colours in oil painting because he was wary of the manufactured colour blends. He made his own pastels from earths and other pigments which he then applied with a minimum of rubbing.

By the early teens he was exhibiting regularly with the Canadian Art Club in Toronto and in 1918 Cullen went to France as an official war artist with the rank of captain. One of his stepsons, Robert Pilot, became a distinguished painter and President if the Royal Canadian Academy. Cullen moved toward clearer atmospheres in his paintings and away from the soft and misty atmospheres of the French Impressionists. This development was perhaps epitomized in his canvas “Deep Pool”. He painted on the Island of Orleans with Horatio Walker, Edmond Dyonnet, and William Brymner and painted with F. S. Coburn whim he encouraged in winter landscapes, also James Wilson Morrice and others. He died at Chambly, Quebec, at the age of 68. A large retrospective exhibition of his works was held in 1956 at the National Gallery of Canada.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977