Artwork by Franklin Carmichael,  Winter, 1916

Franklin Carmichael
Winter, 1916

oil on board
signed and dated 1916 lower right; titled “Down in the Valley, 1916” on a label on the reverse
22 x 23.75 ins ( 55.9 x 60.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $150,000.00$100,000.00 - $150,000.00

Price Realized $168,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Mellors Fine Arts, Toronto as “Winter”
Blair Laing Gallery, Toronto
Ask Prakash & Associates, Inc., Toronto
Private Collection
“Forty-fourth Annual Exhibition, Ontario Society of Artists”, Art Museum of Toronto, 11 March‒15 April 1916, no. 24 as “Winter”
“The Thornhill Circle: J.E.H. MacDonald and His Associates”, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, 16 November 2006‒14 January 2007, no. 5 as “Down in the Valley”, 1916
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 29 October 2015‒25 September 2016
Christopher Jackson, “The Thornhill Circle: J.E.H. MacDonald and His Associates”, Markham, 2006, unpaginated, no. 5 as “Down in the Valley”, 1916
Charles C. Hill, ‘No Timid Play of Subtleties, but Bold and Massive Design: The Group of Seven and Canadian Landscape’, in Ian M. Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Kreighoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2015, listed page 200, reproduced page 110
In the winter of 1914‒15, Franklin Carmichael had just returned from study in Antwerp, Belgium at the Académie Royale des beaux‒arts. His time there was truncated by the outbreak of the First World War to only one curriculum year, and the program of focus was drawing, not painting. That winter, though, Carmichael had the good fortune of living a frugal life with Tom Thomson in the “Shack” once located on Severn Street, Toronto, a building now part of the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Learning from practice, trial and error, and Thomson, Carmichael began anew to create small pochades in oil, and to work the stronger of such images into larger easel paintings. His skills developed rapidly and mastering the subject of winter in oil paint remained his focus for over a year.

In the “plein air” sketch for “Winter,” 1916, in the collection of Museum London, Ontario, Carmichael stood further back from the distant forest than for the easel painting. When it came to enlarging this scene, he moved in closer to the fast‒moving water and ice floes coursing the river, thereby bringing the distant trees into closer view. The deep blue colours of the river are more greatly amplified to evoke the chill of this winter‒spring day. “Winter” is also much sharper in focus and the overall scene is more snowbound than the sketch, particularly the snow‒weighted trees in the far distance.

At this time, Carmichael was only beginning to develop easel paintings produced in studio, the first of these being Winter Evening, known today as “A Muskoka Road”, 1915 (McMichael Canadian Art Collection) which he exhibited in the annual spring exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1915. Carmichael’s finite production at this time is partly explained by economics since he struggled to find work during wartime and had scrimped to save for his wedding to Ada Went on 15 September 1915. When he was re‒hired at Rous and Mann in January 1916, a change in finances meant that Carmichael could now better afford essential painting supplies.

By January 1916, the Carmichaels had moved from Bolton to Thornhill, Ontario where a small artists colony had begun to develop around the family of J.E.H. MacDonald. Arthur Lismer and his family also lived there between 1915‒16. It was in Thornhill that Carmichael painted “Winter” in the early weeks of 1916, time enough so he could include it in the spring annual exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists, one of three canvases he showed then. In Thornhill, Carmichael once again had the benefit of artist friends to share ideas and techniques on painting in oil. MacDonald’s famous “Tangled Garden”, 1916 (National Gallery of Canada) was completed that same year.

“Winter”, 1916 is one of Carmichael’s earliest essays in Impressionist painting and evidence of his swift capacity to handle the oil medium. He learned expediently from his friend and mentor in Tom Thomson, whose Sketch for “In Algonquin Park”, 1914, had been Carmichael’s choice for a wedding gift offered by the artist, a work Carmichael no doubt studied carefully over the fall of 1915. “Winter”, though, is a light‒filled scene, much enriched from the sketch. It shows Carmichael’s use of broken brushwork throughout, most especially in the foreground areas of river and snow. A decorative fan‒like approach was used to articulate the middle‒ground trees and flatten their three‒ dimensionality to emphasize the impasto surface. When Carmichael ventured further north in the late summer of 1916 to the cottage of patron‒ophthalmologist, Dr. James Metcalfe MacCallum (1860‒1943) in Monument Channel, Georgian Bay, he knew he now had command over painting snow in oil. Among the next subjects leading to Carmichael’s role in co‒founding the Group of Seven in 1920 would be the rugged rocks of the Pre‒Cambrian Shield and the splendour of colours offered by the fall season in southern Ontario.

Although the provenance for “Winter”, 1916 is not fully documented, gallerist Blair Laing represented Carmichael’s work posthumously. Labels on the verso from his own gallery, and that of his father’s (Mellors Fine Arts, est. 1932), make it virtually certain that Winter originally came directly from either the artist’s studio or the artist’s widow, Ada Carmichael. The painting is a sterling example of the early years of Carmichael’s landscape work in oil.

We extend our thanks to Catharine Mastin, PhD, art historian, curator, and Adjunct Member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies in Art History at York University for contributing the preceding essay. Mastin also curated the exhibition “Franklin Carmichael: Portrait of a Spiritualist”, an exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, which toured Canada between 1999 and 2001.

Share this item with your friends

Franklin Carmichael
(1890 - 1945) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters, OSA, RCA, CSPWC

Born in Orillia, Ontario, he worked for his father who was a carriage maker and received a good part of his early training in design from him. He took painting lessons from Canon Greene (believed to be one of the parsons on which Stephen Leacock based the character of Dean Drone in “Sunshine Sketches”). In 1901 he met Willian J. Wood another Canadian artist who like himself was aspiring to become a full time painter. Carmichael gave continued encouragement to Wood throughout his life.

In 1911 Carmichael arrived in Toronto and attended the Ontario College of Art where he studied under William Cruikshank and G.A. Reid, also at the Toronto Central Technical School under Gustav Hahn. He began an apprenticeship at the Grip Engraving firm in 1911 where he met Thomson, Lismer, McDonald, Varley and others with whom he sketched on week ends and holidays. A.Y. Jackson in his autobiography described Carmichael in these words, “Frank Carmichael was the youngest member of the original Group, a lyrical painter of great ability and a fine craftsman. He was never free to devote all his time to painting...” It was in 1913 however, that Carmichael had saved enough money to study in l'Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp, Belgium, under Isidor Apsomer and G. Van Du Leben. On his return to Toronto in the winter of 1914-15 he shared accommodation in the Studio Building with Tom Thomson until he married and established a home.

In the following years he worked for Rous and Mann and Sampson-Matthews. As art director for one of these firms he had as an assistant, A.J. Casson from 1919 to 1926. He was a successful industrial designer with a speciality in kitchen utensils and has been credited with introducing the oval dish pan for a steelwares firm. In his paintings he chose Northern Ontario landscapes, and villages of trim box like homes. In 1925 Carmichael helped form the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour with A.J. Casson and F.H. Brigden, a society which kept alive interest and development in this medium.

Paul Duval in his book “Group of Seven Drawings” noted Carmichael was better known for his graphic art and wood engravings, particularly in book illustration. He designed and illustrated Grace Campbell “The Higher Hill” all published by Collins of Canada. Most of his painting before 1925 was done in oils, but after that date he turned to watercolours, block prints, and engravings.

He won a silver medal in 1926 at the Sesquicentennial Exposition. In 1932 A.H. Robson wrote, “...His principal reputation to-day rests upon his water-colour paintings in which the medium he has attained an enviable reputation of organization, beauty of design, and the charm of subtle and refined colour.” This was written in the year that Carmichael left the commercial art field for a teaching post at the Ontario College of Art where he remained head of the Graphic and Commercial Art Department until his death.

Keenly interested in music he played the bassoon, cello and flute, and took part in the University Orchestra presentations and other group performances. In 1936 he exhibited in the Group of Seven retrospective show in Toronto. A memorial exhibition of his paintings, and woodcuts was held at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1947. Another exhibition of his work at the Mount Slavein School, Orillia, in 1960. He is represented in the collections of The Art Gallery of Ontario, Hart House, University of Toronto; Vancouver Art Gallery; St. Hilda's College Toronto; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery of Canada by a dozen or more paintings; National Gallery of South Africa, and in many private collections.

He was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1917) (Pres. 1938); Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (1925 Founding Member); Canadian Group of Painters (1933 Founding Member); Royal Canadian Academy (ARCA 1935 RCA 1938); Arts and Letters Club, Toronto.

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