Lot # 256
Fall 2016 - 4th Session Live auction

Arthur Lismer
AAM CGP CSGA CSPWC G7 OSA RCA 1885 - 1969 Canadian

Spring on the Sackville River, NS
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1920 and on verso inscribed "51"
35 x 43 in  88.9 x 109.2cm

Provenance:
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver
Peter and Joanne Brown Collection, Vancouver, acquired from the above in 1983

Exhibited:
Art Gallery of Hamilton, Canadian Paintings - A Collector Reminisces, November 2 - 26, 1972

Arthur Lismer, after training at the Sheffield School of Art and, like his friend Fred Varley, at the Académie royale des beaux-arts, Antwerp, immigrated to Canada in 1911. He soon found work at the design firm Grip Ltd. and later at Rous & Mann Ltd. The need to support his wife and daughter and the advent of the First World War, which led to a decline in commercial work, led Lismer to seek a more secure source of income, and in 1916 the family moved to Nova Scotia so that Lismer could take up teaching and administrative duties as principal at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design). The Lismer family settled in the small community of Bedford, ten miles outside of Halifax. As he took a mid-week day off in lieu of working on Saturday, Lismer was at home on December 6, 1917. This fact prevented him and his family from being injured or killed in the disastrous Halifax Explosion that took almost 2,000 lives and left 6,000 others injured and 200,000 homeless.
Lismer’s teaching load at the school was heavy, so he was prevented from going on extended sketching trips. Fortunately he and his family were living in a house that overlooked the Sackville River, and this provided him with plenty of subject matter for painting. Fine compositions, including Sackville River, 1917 (collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia) and My Wife, Sackville River, Nova Scotia, 1918 (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario), were executed not far from the Lismer home. Lismer, although he had never enlisted, with the encouragement of Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada, painted several important works that document naval activity while he was in Halifax, notably Convoy in Bedford Basin, circa 1918 (collection of the Canadian War Museum), and made an exceptional group of lithographs.
Between his teaching and his war work, along with a large mural commission for a Halifax restaurant (now destroyed), Lismer had relatively little time for landscape painting. Spring on the Sackville River, NS is a rare example of a major landscape work resulting from his time in Nova Scotia. In 1919, Lismer and his family returned to Toronto, so he could take up duties as vice-principal at the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design). Spring on the Sackville River, NS was completed in his Toronto studio using studies done in Nova Scotia. This striking painting employs compositional elements that Lismer had first used in 1914—a screen of trees and a house, seen in The Guide’s Home, Algonquin, 1914 (collection of the National Gallery of Canada), which resulted from a sketching trip to Algonquin Park with Tom Thomson. In Spring on the Sackville River, NS, however, Lismer has organized the composition into a series of parallel planes—the initial screen of trees, the Sackville River, the grassy far bank of the river, the picket fence, the house, the background screen of trees and the cloudy sky above. This progression into space gives the composition a wonderful sense of expansive airiness.
The foreground trees rise up to the midpoint of the work, thus visually reinforcing the imaginative journey our eye makes into the middle and background of the composition. These delicate trees, rustling in the breeze, are contrasted with the larger deciduous trees and noble conifers behind the house, which recall those seen in Isles of Spruce, 1922 (collection of Hart House, University of Toronto). The sense of movement felt in the foreground trees and the fast-flowing currents of the Sackville River are carefully balanced against the more serene middle and backgrounds, thus preventing the image from being either too quiet or too frenzied. While clearly a work done in the studio rather than outdoors, Spring on the Sackville River, NS, through the use of a rich variety of greens in the foliage and the sunlight that bathes the whole composition, vividly suggests the freshness of the natural world coming back to life in spring.

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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