Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  Eastern Arctic

A.Y. Jackson
Eastern Arctic

oil on panel
signed lower right; signed, titled, dated 1930, inscribed “Artic” [sic], “Joe McCulley”, “owned by “H.V. Ross” and the Naomi Jackson Groves inventory number (”NJG 108”) on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 in ( 21.6 x 26.7 cm )

Auction Estimate: $90,000.00$70,000.00 - $90,000.00

Price Realized $168,000.00
Sale date: May 30th 2024

Joseph McCulley, Toronto
H.V. Ross, Toronto
Joyner Waddington's, auction, Toronto, 2 December 2003, lot 53
A.K. Prakash & Associates, Toronto
Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection
Possibly "Arctic Sketches by A.Y. Jackson", Hart House, University of Toronto, November 1930, no. 4 as "Neerke, Greenland"
Possibly "Arctic Sketches by A.Y. Jackson, R.C.A. & Lawren Harris", National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 26 November–8 December 1930, no. 4 as "Neerke, Greenland"
Possibly "Arctic Sketches by Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson, R.C.A.", Art Gallery of Toronto, from 1 May 1931, no. 357 as "Nerke, Greenland"
"A.Y. Jackson," Arts & Letters Club, Toronto, from 3 October 1972
Library and Archives Canada, Naomi Jackson Groves Fonds, MG 30 D351, Container 52, file 13, A.Y. Jackson’s Arctic Diary 1930, and Container 69-21 Inventory Binder Arctic 1930
A.Y. Jackson, "A Painter’s Country," Toronto, 1958, pages 98, 105-108
Dennis Reid, "Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven", Ottawa, 1970, pages 231-234, 237-240
"A.Y. Jackson The Arctic 1927", Moonbeam, Ontario, 1982, unpaginated, plate 58
David Silcox, "The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson", Toronto, 2003, page 390
A.Y. Jackson’s trips to the Arctic in 1927 and 1930 are key moments in the artist’s life-long exploration of Canada’s many landscapes. On both trips he travelled on the Canadian government supply boat, the "Beothic". In 1927 he was accompanied by Dr. Frederick Banting and in 1930 by fellow artist Lawren Harris. The first voyage resulted in a large number of drawings, oil sketches and several canvases, one of which, "North Shore, Baffin Island" (also exhibited as "Eskimo Village"), acquired by Toronto’s East York Collegiate in 1928, depicted an encampment of tents, houses, dogs and Inuit on a rise in the foreground with an expansive view of the hills of Bylot Island across ice-strewn water. As Jackson later wrote, “Since our time at any of our stopping places was, of necessity, limited, we got into the habit of making notes [i.e. drawings] while ashore. When we were at sea again we made paintings from these notes in our cabin.” This canvas was worked up from a drawing (reproduced as plate 58 in "A.Y. Jackson The Arctic" 1927) made at Pond Inlet in Northern Baffin Island on 16 August 1927 and from an oil sketch (sold at Heffel Fine Art Auction House, 23 May 2007, lot 146a), possibly painted from the drawing in the artists’ cabin.

The first part of Jackson’s second trip north followed much the same route as in 1927, but ice and fog were constant variables. The ship’s stop at Pangnirtung on the east coast of Baffin Island resulted in a good number of drawings and the canvases "Summer, Pangnirtung Baffin Island" (McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1979.26.4) and "Eskimo Summer Camp, Pangnirtung". These paintings rework the composition of the earlier "North Shore, Baffin Island", with a foreground encampment, a body of water in the middle ground and distant hills, as does the oil sketch offered here. But "Eastern Arctic" was not painted at Pangnirtung but, as Naomi Jackson Groves has noted, at Nerck (or Nerke) on Robertson Bay or Fjord in Northern Greenland. As Jackson wrote in his autobiography, "A Painter’s Country", from the first northern stop at Godhavn, the Beothic headed north to Ellesmere Island then followed the Greenland coast south where Jackson “saw a noble range of big reddish-violet hills covered by glaciers standing in relief against warm grey skies. We called at Nerck ... an old settlement of stone igloos...”. Most striking are the dramatic glaciers discharging from the Greenland ice sheet across the water. This composition also began in a drawing, now in the Firestone Collection at the Ottawa Art Gallery, dated 16 August 1930, three years to the day after Jackson drew the Pond Inlet study for "North Shore, Baffin Island". Another, more detailed preliminary drawing sold at Joyner Waddington’s in Toronto, 2 December 2003, lot 54 together with this oil sketch.

Jackson’s affectionate depiction of the tents, dogs and family group, painted in earth tones with accents of blue and a rollicking rhythm, contrasts strikingly with Lawren Harris’ oil sketch of Nerke (inscribed on the back "Robertson Bay, Greenland" and "Nerke, Greenland North") that he gave to Emily Carr in November 1933 and that is now in the collection of the University of Alberta. Harris’ sketch is an intellectual construct, devoid of human life. The reddish violet hills are colder, as are the grey sky and clouds. In both works the glaciers flow into the sea. Harris worked up his sketch to paint the canvas "Greenland Mountains" (National Gallery of Canada, 4279).

"Eastern Arctic" was formerly in the collection of Joseph McCulley, who was warden of Hart House from 1952 to 1965, and was subsequently acquired by Arts and Letters Club member Harry Ross, who, in 1964 (Groves) or 1965 (Silcox), asked Jackson to paint a canvas from this 1930 sketch. That canvas sold with the drawing and oil sketch at Joyner Waddington’s in Toronto on 2 December 2003, lot 52. Ross loaned two untitled canvases and two untitled sketches, most likely including this sketch and the canvas, to the A.Y. Jackson exhibition celebrating the artist’s ninetieth birthday, at the Arts and Letters Club in 1972.

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