Artwork by Alexander Young Jackson,  The River, Baie-Saint-Paul

A.Y. Jackson
The River, Baie-Saint-Paul

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1929 lower right; inscribed indistinctly on the stretcher
25 x 32 in ( 63.5 x 81.3 cm )

Auction Estimate: $200,000.00$150,000.00 - $200,000.00

Price Realized $144,000.00
Sale date: May 30th 2024

Collection of the Artist, Toronto
Mary Osler Boyd, Toronto, 1934
Private Collection, Ottawa, by descent Dominion Gallery, Montreal, 1966
David Molson, Montreal, 1966
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver
Private Collection, Vancouver
Joyner Fine Art, auction, Toronto, 25 November 1994, lot 31 as
"The Gouffre River, Baie St-Paul"
Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection
"Exhibition of the Group of Seven", Art Gallery of Toronto, 5-27 April 1930, no. 81 as "The River, Baie St. Paul"
"Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Group of Seven and Other Artists", Art Association of Montreal, 3-18 May 1930, no. 81 as "The River, Baie St. Paul" at $300
Paintings by A.Y. Jackson, J. Merritt Malloney’s Gallery, Toronto, to 10 March 1934, no.14 as The River at Baie Paul
Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Naomi Jackson Groves fonds (MG30-D351) Container 95-11, Letters to Florence Clement 1923- 1924; Container 69-20 Inventory Binder 1930
A.Y. Jackson, 'Winter Sketching', "Supplement to the McGill News", VIII:3 (June 1927), pages 298-300
'Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art. Inc.', "Canadian Art Sales Index 1980-81", Vancouver, 1981, reproduced page 4
The Lower Saint Lawrence became A.Y. Jackson’s favourite painting site in the 1920s. He painted at Cacouna on the south shore opposite Tadoussac in the spring of 1921 and in March 1923 visited Baie-Saint-Paul for the first time. Situated on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence, the picturesque village lies at the mouth of the Gouffre River, which meanders down from Saint-Urbain, the village made so famous by Clarence Gagnon’s 1925 canvas "Village in the Laurentian Mountains" (National Gallery of Canada). On 16 March 1923 Jackson wrote to his cousin Florence Clement, “It's snowing in Baie St. Paul. It seldom seems to stop and soon there won’t be anything to paint but snow. ... The village is rather fine. New church, very awful architecture replacing a fine old one and a lot of gaily painted houses, but rather hard to compose. However there should be something to do when the little river breaks up.”

On 10 January 1924 he again wrote to Florence Clement from Baie-Saint-Paul. “I don’t like the winter quite so early in January. I like it when it is over the divide and you can see or feel the oncoming of spring. Now winter is just a little too cocky. It looks too much like Christmas cards here now. I see them all over.”

Jackson was fascinated by the changing effects of light and snow. “March and April are the happy sketching months, when the snow is old and rich in form and texture, and the cold does not stiffen the colours or nip the fingers, and when the thaw starts, every day brings changes of colour and new elements in design.... The snow ... is sensitive to every phase of light, and changes in sympathy with the sky; the relationship of the two is often the chief problem,” he wrote in the "Supplement to the McGill News" in 1927.

Jackson was especially attracted to the architecture and inhabited rural landscape of the older regions of Quebec and his principal subjects in the mid-1920s were the villages and farmhouses, the rural roads and wind-swept barns. However, the landscape was changing, as he bemoaned in that same McGill article. “The picturesque side of Quebec is rapidly disappearing, the traditional architecture has given way to the bungalow and red brick atrocities surrounded by verandahs, the homespun and rugs and blankets are being made to sell to tourists, the old boat-shaped red sleigh which faded to violet grey is being supplanted by an artist-proof factory article.... The painter, however, is not dependent on the picturesque, ... fine canvases can be developed from the slightest of external [motifs].”

In March 1928 Jackson once again returned to Baie-Saint-Paul to find the village smothered in snow. Possibly disturbed by the changes in the architecture of the village and unable to move up to Saint-Urbain due to an outbreak of smallpox, Jackson painted the landscape around the Gouffre River. Worked up from an oil sketch painted that March and now in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, "River, Baie St. Paul", marks a turning point in Jackson’s depiction of the rural Quebec landscape. No house, barn or sleigh occupies the river valley. The painting has been developed from “the slightest of external motifs,” the river and surrounding hills. The muted palette of browns and greys, similar to Jackson’s "Beothic at Bache Poste" (National Gallery of Canada) also shown in the 1930 Group of Seven exhibition, is accented by rich blue shadows and white snow in the distant hills. Red branches emerge from the snow on the far slope and the transparent brown water is edged by touches of green ice. From the foreground shore to the curving river to the riverbank, hills and clouds, the whole composition is determined by the interplay of broadly brushed, rolling rhythms.

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