Artwork by Robert Clow Todd,  Corbeau at Montmorency Falls

Robert Clow Todd
Corbeau at Montmorency Falls

oil on canvas
signed, titled and dated 1845 towards lower left
21 x 26.5 ins ( 53.3 x 67.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $250,000.00$150,000.00 - $250,000.00

Price Realized $744,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Commissioned by Allan Gilmour
By descent to the Gilmour family, Liverpool
Sir John Gilmour, Liverpool, by 1962
Oscar Gagnon, Cobalt, Ontario
Acquired by the present Private Collection, March 1977
“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. 2
“The Spectacle of Play”, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 25 May 2013–13 January 2014
“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
“Chefs-d’œuvres de l’exposition ‘Embracing Canada’”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 22 October–5 November 2016
Klaus Neumann, ‘Everybody’s Art Boom: Early Canadiana, “Maclean’s Magazine”, 16 July 1960, reproduced page 18
John Russell Harper, “Painting in Canada: A History”, Toronto, 1966, page 129, (2nd edition, 1977, page 103)
Mike Pearson, ‘Cobalt Resident Treasures 132-Year-Old Canadian Painting’, “Northern Daily News”, 20 January 1977
Dennis Reid, “Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 2, reproduced on page 16 and on the cover
Victoria Baker and Didier Prioul, ‘Robert Clow Todd’, “Painting in Quebec, 1820–1850: New Views, New Perspectives, Quebec City”, 1991, pages 482–489, no. 224A
Mario Béland, ‘À l’anse aux Sauvages, “Cap-aux-Diamants,” no. 69, (Spring 2002), page 63
Ian Thom, ed., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver, 2015, reproduced pages 6 and 7, caption page 203
A native of Berwick-upon-Tweek (Northumberland) on the Scottish border, Robert Clow Todd (circa 1809–1866) settled in Quebec City in 1833. His training is unknown, but in January 1834, he announced that he would continue to offer his services as: “House, Sign, Carriage and Ornamental Painter,” adding that “having been for several years employed by many of the first nobility and gentry in London and Edinburgh, trusts that he shall give satisfaction to those who may favor him with their patronage” (”The Quebec Gazette”, January 27, 1834).

The people of Quebec appear to have been receptive to his proposal as he successfully shifted from a sign painter to a painter of fine art. The conditions were ripe for Todd to continue his training while generating commissions. His business prospered. In May 1838, he looked for an apprentice to assist him. In 1840, he added “figure carving, gilding” to the services he already offered and, in the fall of 1842, he opened a drawing and painting school.

The few known paintings by Todd can be dated to the 1840s. His output from this time appears to have been quite productive judging by the auction he held in 1854, when he was preparing to leave Quebec for Toronto, likely due to the competition Krieghoff introduced into the local market. The twenty-five paintings include mostly copies (after Murillo, Landseer, and Lawrence, among others). There are also two views of Montmorency Falls in summer and winter and a small painting titled “Montmorenci vu de l’Anse des Sauvages, Pointe-Lévi” (Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec).

“Corbeau at Montmorency Falls” illustrates Todd’s ties to the prosperous lumber merchant, shipbuilder and ship owner Allan Gilmour (1805– 1884). Established in Quebec in 1828, Allan Gilmour and Company set up on the north and south shores of the St. Lawrence (Anse au Foulon also known as Wolfe’s Cove and Indian Cove), building ships and storing timber rafts. Although Gilmour settled in Glasgow as of 1838, he maintained ties with Quebec, as evidenced “The Timber and Shipbuilding Yards of Allan Gilmour” and “Company at Wolfe’s Cove Quebec Viewed From the South and the West” (1840). These two paintings, which remained in the Gilmour family in Liverpool until the National Gallery of Canada acquired them in 1987, demonstrate how Todd established his reputation as an easel painter after spending six years in Quebec.

Also in 1845, Gilmour commissioned Todd once again to celebrate another of his possessions, his trotting horse “Corbeau,” which translates to raven, named for its shiny black coat. A first painting shows Corbeau in all his splendour, easily recognizable by his white muzzle, on a cliff that overlooks the St. Lawrence River in summer (1845, National Gallery of Canada). The painting offered for sale integrates Corbeau into the picturesque setting of the Montmorency Falls in winter. The horse earned its title of nobility on March 18, 1845, when it won a race in Laprairie against the American champion and favourite named Dread. “Such trotting as was displayed by the latter [”Corbeau”] had not been seen on the ice here for many a-day” (”The Montreal Courier”, 19 March 1845). Todd depicted the victorious horse in front of what was considered the most famous Canadian winter landscape, the Montmorency Falls, which flow into the St. Lawrence River.

A short distance from Quebec City (twelve kilometres), the falls are a favourite destination for Quebecers in all seasons. In winter, the formation of an ice cone, known as the Sugarloaf, makes the place even more distinctive and conducive to recreation. The cliff, partly covered with snow, emphasizes the falls and the steep slope on the right, which can be used for sliding, just like the Sugarloaf. The arrangement of harnessed or mounted horses evokes the depth of the basin of the waterfall, the icy ground appearing as a vast smooth plane.

Todd combines this quintessential view with Corbeau running at a trot and hitched to a sled, the driver firmly holding the reins in order to control the beast as it speeds through the icy snow. The sled’s thin blades and minimalist frame lighten the load of the horse, whose shadow suggests that the horse is floating above the white ground. A man holding a flag stands to the left, marking the finish line of a race, and no other racer follows “Corbeau”. Four people on the right salute the champion’s achievement. Todd executes the painting in variations of white and black, accented with touches of red and green. This is an image of a sunny winter day, with pure and crisp air, executed in a sharp design.

The painting became famous in Quebec City, as evidenced by Todd’s return to similar depictions of proud owners of horse carriages in front of the Montmorency Falls during winter at least three other times (Art Gallery of Ontario, National Gallery of Canada, Power Corporation of Canada). These paintings led to many emulators of Todd’s work. By bringing together the famous landscape of the falls in winter and the dashing “Corbeau”, Todd presents a symbol and an account of the colonization in Canada.

We extend our thanks to Laurier Lacroix, C.M., art historian, for researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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Robert Clow Todd
(1809 - 1866)

Robert Clow Todd, artist, decorative painter (b at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Eng c 1809; d at Toronto 7 May 1866). Todd left a lively record of Quebec winter life in a series of horse-and-sleigh paintings reminiscent of British artist Stubbs, whose work Todd may have admired while decorating carriages in Edinburgh and London before coming to Quebec City in 1834. In Quebec, sportsmen and officers commissioned him to paint pictures of their favourite horses; he also did summer views of Montmorency Falls and the Quebec docks. He moved to Toronto in 1853, advertising as "banner, herald, sign and ornamental painter," but business was poor. He is best remembered for the crisp linear finesse and feeling for the local scene in paintings such as The Ice Cone, Montmorency Falls (c 1845). He taught at both the Seminaire de Quebec and Loretto Abbey, Toronto.