Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  Study for Golden Venice, circa 1901-1902
Thumbnail of Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  Study for Golden Venice, circa 1901-1902 Thumbnail of Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  Study for Golden Venice, circa 1901-1902 Thumbnail of Artwork by James Wilson Morrice,  Study for Golden Venice, circa 1901-1902

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

Lot #17

J.W. Morrice
Study for Golden Venice, circa 1901-1902

oil on board
5 x 6 in ( 12.7 x 15.2 cm )

Auction Estimate: $70,000.00$50,000.00 - $70,000.00

Lykes Collection, Tampa, Florida
Private Collection, Sarasota, Florida
Private Collection, Brunswick, Maine
Charles Fromuth Journal, MNC 2796, Library of Congress, Washington DC, page 91
Sandra Paikowsky, "James Wilson Morrice. Paintings and Drawings of Venice", Stuttgart, 2023, pages 170-172. A very thorough commentary on the related drawing and canvas; this and two other canvases depict a stretch of the Grand Canal, northeast of the Rialto Bridge.
After Paris, where he lived since 1890, and more than Montreal, where he was born, Venice is the city most often depicted by J.W. Morrice. However, it was not love at first sight: after a short stay, likely very early in the Spring of 1894, he left for Capri, where he stayed much longer. If he never returned to Capri, he visited Venice many times between 1897 and 1907, including a two-month sojourn in 1901. He then planned to spend the summer of 1902 in Spain, as he confided to his friend Charles Fromuth, an American painter living in Concarneau and Paris.

Fromuth was therefore very surprised to find Morrice in Venice, arrived the same day (13 June) with Maurice Cullen and William Brymner; that stay lasted about two months. In his journal, Fromuth reminisces: “So many an evening we worked together on the only waterfront offer on the Grand Canal at the fish & vegetable market by the Rialto, a marvellous location for sunset effects upon the palace opposite. After our studies, we indulged in our absinthe, then dined.”

This sketch was indeed painted late in the day: the sky and the water are getting darker, while the facades are brightly illuminated by the setting sun. Everything is painted very rapidly, almost in a rush before the sun completely disappeared. Without the corresponding drawing in a sketchbook, "Palaces on the Campiello Del Remer, Venice" (National Gallery of Canada, page 27r), the exact location would be hard to decipher: this is truly an “art for art’s sake” little gem, one of Morrice’s most Impressionist studies.

It represents a series of palazzi across the Grand Canal, as viewed from the "sotoportego" (covered landing) of the Fabbriche Nuove in the vegetable section (Erberia) of the Rialto Market: the exact spot mentioned by Fromuth. The cream facade in the sun, Ca’Leon, and the greyer one on the extreme right, Casa Remer, both belong to the large Palazzo Lion-Morosini (the sunny one, enlarged after 1905, is now painted red). The space between them is the small Campiello Remer whose main feature, an imposing gothic staircase climbing beside the sunny facade, is not visible at all, and the two ogival portals on the ground floor are here only suggested by dark grey rectangles. At left, the pink Palazzo Bollani-Erizzo lacks its typical gothic windows, and Morrice has made it shorter than in reality to align all rooftops under his dark turquoise sky, a strong horizontal echoed by the very black boat near the bottom.

To make better sense of what he saw, Morrice also carefully drew each facade realistically in his sketchbook, including the true height of the Bollani-Erizzo; he even added colour notes: red for a door, blue for the ogival openings, yellow for the Casa Remer, and yellow again for the three windows on the second floor of the Bollani. The canvas "Golden Venice" (Private Collection) is based on the drawing, with only minor adjustments; otherwise, all the rooftops are described with the same details and complexity as in the drawing, but its colour notes were not all followed. Another drawing in the same sketchbook (page 34r) was used for the two "caorline" (transport boats) at the bottom, which Morrice painted brown and not black, to maintain his well-balanced harmony.

Morrice used the sketch only for the general colour scheme, if at all, and he did not keep it for long; it was not found in his Parisian studio after his death in Tunis–no studio stamp–and it is not signed, two facts suggesting a gift to a close friend. Nothing else is known about this lovely little painting until someone spotted it in the estate of a prominent citizen of Tampa around 2007. By that time it had become anonymous, but its high quality was not lost, and an astute observer identified it as preparatory to the "Golden Venice" canvas.

We extend our thanks to Lucie Dorais, Canadian art historian and author of "J.W. Morrice" (National Gallery of Canada, 1985), for contributing the preceding essay.
For additional images and/or details related to this artwork, please visit the digital catalogue:
Sale Date: May 30th 2024

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

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James Wilson Morrice
(1865 - 1924) RCA

Born in Montreal to a prominent family of textile merchants, Morrice spent most of his life abroad, much of it in Paris. He had gone there to enrol in the Academie Julian, the best-known of the private art schools that lured dozens of young Canadian artists to cross the ocean with the promise of technical proficiency and stylistic sophistication. Soon Morrice was studying with the Barbizon painter Henri Harpignies and looking intently at the pictures of the cutting-edge Nabis members. Affable and gregarious, Morrice was well liked in Paris among the local and emigre vanguard, notably his friends the great Henri Matisse and the influential American painter Robert Henri. He did well, showing in the most prestigious exhibitions of new art, including the Salons, and selling to discerning European collections of the highest rank. If he is remembered mostly in Canada today, it may be because Canadian collectors repatriated most of his pictures after his death, leaving Europeans with little to go on. He had been careful to maintain a reputation at home, showing here regularly and returning frequently for Christmas, which would explain why most of his Canadian pictures are winter scenes. Young Canadian artists held him in considerable esteem during his lifetime for his fearless modernism and his success in Europe. A stylistically hybrid artist, Morrice combined a lush and often dusky Post-Impressionist tone with nonchalant brushwork of a plumb assuredness, softening the blunt structures of his Fauvist friends. What results are paintings as complicated as they are straightforward and often redolent with suppressed emotion. Morrice tends to smallish pictures that draw you in, only to surprise you by their resolute diffidence. Irresistible and remote, his pictures ask for intimacy but keep their distance, like nostalgia, like longing. Morrice ran with a fast crowd of glittering cosmopolitans. Alcoholism got the better of him by the end of his fifties; his health ultimately failed while in North Africa where he had painted with Matisse and where he died at fifty-eight.

Source: National Gallery of Canada